Isn't there a law to protect my child's benefit information?
As has been widely reported, two computer discs holding the personal details of all families in the UK with a child under 16 have gone missing from HM Revenue and Customs.
Chancellor Alistair Darling told MPs: "Two password protected discs containing a full copy of HM Revenue and Customs' entire data in relation to the payment of child benefit was sent to the National Audit Office, by HM Revenue and Customs' internal post system operated by the courier TNT.
The package was not recorded or registered. It appears the data has failed to reach the addressee in the National Audit Office."
The Child Benefit data on the discs includes name, address, date of birth, National Insurance number and, where relevant, bank details of 25 million people. What has been lost?
Discs containing 25 million child benefit records. These included the names, addresses, dates of birth, National Insurance numbers and, where relevant, bank and building society details of:
- 7.25 million claimants
- 15.5 million children, including some who no longer qualify but whose family is claiming for a younger child
- 2.25 million 'alternative payees' such as partners or carers
- 3,000 'appointees' who claim the benefit under court instructions
- 12,500 agents who claim the benefit on behalf of a third party
YES, personal information or data is protected in the UK by the Data Protection Act 1998.
The Act gives individuals certain rights and requires the persons or companies who hold, or use the data, to be open about how their personal information is used; this includes HM Revenue and Customs.
Data protection in the UK is controlled and enforced by the Information Commissioner. (www.ico.gov.uk)
Is losing my child's benefit information breaking the law?
IT IS VERY LIKELY THAT A BREACH HAS OCCURRED.
The Data Protection Act forces persons or companies who hold, or use the data to ensure a level of security appropriate to the harm that might result from an accidental loss.
The nature of the data is a relevant consideration when deciding what security measures need to be taken, as is the technology available to protect it. More effective security should have been used in this situation.
However, it is too early to tell what damage may result from this. The discs may still be on Government premises and there is as yet no evidence that the data has been used fraudulently.
Does the Data Protection Act allow me to claim compensation?
YES you can make a claim for compensation, but ONLY if you have SUFFERED LOSS as a DIRECT result of the lost data. This will usually be financial loss.
If you have suffered loss and distress as a result of the lost data, you may also claim damages for the distress. You may only claim for distress, if you have also suffered loss.
Does that mean I should contact you?
NO, not at this stage, although we would be happy to help with any other legal matter. As yet there is no evidence of fraudulent use, and if it does occur, HM Revenue and Customs and the banks have stated that, the banking code guarantees that any "innocent victim" will not suffer any financial loss as a consequence. If you are affected by fraud, this is likely to be the easiest way to deal with it.
Are my children at risk to fraud?
Children whose personal data has gone missing could be at risk of identity fraud for many years.
Credit reference agencies have stated that criminals who may obtain the data, could wait until children turn 18 before trying to apply for credit in their name. This could have a detrimental impact on the children's ability to buy or rent a home or obtain a loan or credit card.
The Association for Payment Clearing Services have suggested that people are vigilant and take extra precautions. They suggest that people monitor their credit reports to ensure no unauthorised checks were being carried out, as this is something which would suggest someone was applying for credit in their name.
What if I am the victim of fraud, or suffer some other loss and my bank won't help me.
It is at this stage that it may be best to obtain legal advice. Contact EMILE SAADI on 0370 1500 100 ext 6438 for advice and further information.
Is there anything else I can do in the mean time?
YES, if you have been affected by this incident, and your child's benefit information is likely to be on the disks, then you may wish to consider the following steps:
- You can make a Notice of Correction to your credit file. This is a statement of up to 200 words which you can use to inform a credit reference agency of potentially fraudulent activity on your account. This will warn all potential lenders, who are using that agency, to take extra care.
- You may also use a Notice of Correction to apply a password to your file. The password must then be asked as part of any future credit application. This will slow down any future credit applications but will ensure an extra layer of security.
- In order to apply for a notice of correction at any credit reference agency, you must first apply for your credit report from that agency (see below).
- We would be happy to assist you, by producing a letter to the credit reference agencies, highlighting that there is a potential for fraud, and that you would like a Notice of Correction placing on your account.
We would also be happy to provide the wording for the actual Notice of Correction, which will be read by all lenders obtaining your credit report.
In order to maximize your protection, you should apply for a Notice of Correction to all the credit reference, i.e. Callcredit, Experian, and Equifax.
You may also wish to consider the following points:
The Information Commissioners Office (ICO) is aware of the situation and will be investigating what happened. The ICO has requested that you do not make individual complaints.
- Get a copy of your credit report; this will reveal any unauthorised activity. This can be obtained from the credit reference agencies.
- Contact CIFAS (www.cifas.org.uk) and ask for a Protective Registration to be applied to your personal details.
- Consider subscribing to a credit file monitoring service, which will provide you with regular updates on your credit status. This type of monitoring service can be obtained from the credit reference agencies.