ICO alerted after DWP publishes personal data of 6,000 benefit claimants

Written by Sam Trendall on 16 November 2020 in News
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Department claims that ‘no-one can be identified’ from information published

Credit: Kirsty O'Connor/PA Wire/PA Images

Regulators have been alerted after the Department for Work and Pensions mistakenly published personal details of more than 6,000 claimants of the Personal Independence Payment benefit.

Two spreadsheets – containing the National Insurance numbers of about 6,400 people that claim the benefit – were first published in 2018, and the data remained publicly available online for more than two years. This was recently spotted by privacy advocacy group Big Brother Watch, and then reported on last week by the Mirror – which alerted the DWP.

The spreadsheets have now been taken down, and the department said that it has informed the Information Commissioner’s Office of the incident.


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“Information issued in error as part of our regular transparency releases has been removed and will be replaced with revised data as soon as possible,” a DWP spokesperson added. "While no one can be identified from the additional information published, we apologise for the mistake. We take our responsibility to protect data very seriously and have reported the incident to the Information Commissioner’s Office.”

A representative of the data-protection watchdog indicated that it was “assessing the information provided” by the DWP and considering if further action is required.

PIP, which was introduced in 2013, replaced the Disability Living Allowance and provides financial support for those with a disability or long-term health condition. About 2.6 million citizens are eligible to claim – around a third of whom are entitled to the maximum payout of £151.40 per week.

Jake Hurfurt, head of research and investigations at Big Brother Watch said: “The DWP’s reckless publication of data that could identify people receiving disability welfare is a gross violation of privacy. It underlines the department’s increasing appetite to hoover up and spit out welfare data without considering the reasons why they are processing it or even taking care to do so lawfully. The department needs to prioritise apologising to the people affected for putting their privacy at risk in the breach and warn them of the risk, instead of just removing the file and saying nothing.” 

 

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Sam Trendall is editor of PublicTechnology

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