Information sharing, retention and homeworking present the biggest data security challenges to social housing providers, according to the government’s information commissioner.
Commissioner Christopher Graham highlighted the issues in a speech to the Chartered Institute of Housing conference in Manchester today.
His comments follow a report produced by the Information Commissioner’s Office outlining areas where providers of social housing, including council Arms Length Management Organisations, could improve compliance with the Data Protection Act.
Graham said: “The ICO wants to work with the sector to help improve areas, such as data sharing, retention schedules and secure homeworking.
“Tenants’ trust is one of the sector’s most valuable resources, and shouldn’t be squandered on preventable breaches.
“By implementing clear policies and procedures alongside appropriate staff training, social housing organisations will be able to prevent these breaches and introduce the foundations of a secure data protection regime.”
The ICO’s report recommended housing organisations should implement formal data sharing arrangements stipulating what information can be shared and requiring records to be kept.
It also said that portable devices that store personal data should use encryption to protect the information.
The ICO also recommended the production of policies to allow staff to work remotely.
“Although not all the housing organisations visited have remote or homeworking available, where it was used it often wasn’t formalised,” the report said.
Having a data protection responsible to the board would helps drive compliance throughout the organisation, it added.
Graham said: “Over two million people live in social housing across the UK, many of them from vulnerable groups such as the disabled and the elderly.
“It is therefore essential social housing organisations understand their responsibilities under the Data Protection Act, especially as much of the information they handle is so sensitive.”