Hampshire & Isle of Wight

Basingstoke council apology over benefits data breach

Basingstoke and Deane website screengrab Image copyright Basingstone and Deane
Image caption The Freedom of Information Act gives people rights to access official information

A council leaked personal details of housing benefit claimants, including their dates of birth and national insurance details, in response to a Freedom of Information (FOI) request.

Basingstoke and Deane sent letters of apology to 1,900 people, warning them their details had been disclosed.

The borough said it had informed the police and Information Commissioner.

It has also set up a helpline and offered to pay to monitor loans taken out in the name of the affected people.

A council spokeswoman said the FOI request had arrived by email with no additional contact details.

It had asked how many people were claiming housing benefit and living in private accommodation.

The spreadsheet sent in response to the request contained names, ages, national insurance numbers and addresses of those making the claims, the spokeswoman said.

'Compare statistics'

She added that the council did not know who had requested the information and attempts to contact them had failed.

No bank details were disclosed.

Robin Craggs, who was among the people whose data was handed over, said: "I've taken... the utmost care in shredding any documents that have got my personal details... to try and make sure I'm not a victim of identity theft, then my local council come and undo that for me in one fell swoop."

Council director Laura Taylor said: "I am very sorry that this mistake has happened and for the inconvenience and distress this may cause.

"We take the security of personal information extremely seriously and we get a high volume of Freedom of Information requests.

"We have taken immediate steps to further tighten our procedures and will act on any lessons from the review and investigation.

"It is likely that the person who got the information was making inquiries to lots of different councils to compare statistics and will not even realise that they have the personal information, but we cannot be 100% certain.

"I do not want to worry people unnecessarily but felt that it was only right that we let the people affected know what has happened and give them advice on what they can do to protect themselves with our help."

Dawn Monaghan, spokeswoman for the Information Commissioner's Office, said the breach was being investigated.

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