27 September 2002

Elizabeth Brownsdon

The Information Commissioner has recently prosecuted Islington Council for breach of data protection legislation. The case shows the importance of having an up-to-date registration and of responding to the Commissioner’s renewal letters. It also shows the importance of maintaining correct details of council tax payers.

Islington Council’s records incorrectly showed a solicitor’s address as a tax payer’s home address. Unfortunately for Islington Council, the solicitor to whom it sent council tax reminders and a summons is also one of the principal solicitors instructed by the Information Commissioner on data protection prosecutions.

Islington Council first registered to hold and process personal data for a number of purposes back in 1986; registration had to be renewed every three years. The registration of seven of these purposes was due to be renewed in June 1999 but despite reminder letters sent to the Council, this was not done. Therefore, from June until December 1999, the Council was not registered for these purposes.

Separately, Islington Council held incorrect records about a tax payer and repeatedly sent correspondence and a summons to the address of the solicitor the tax payer had instructed. The solicitor complained repeatedly and, eventually, reported the matter to the Information Commissioner as a breach of the data protection principles. At this point, the Commissioner’s Office discovered the non-registration and initiated the prosecution. The case has recently been remitted back to the Magistrates Court by the High Court.

The case is being brought under the UK 1984 Data Protection Act, so much of the detail of the proceedings is of limited relevance now that the 1998 Data Protection Act is fully in force in the UK. The case does, however, show the importance of ensuring that registrations are renewed and of responding to the renewal reminder letters from the Commissioner.
Important - The information in this article is provided subject to the disclaimer. The law may have changed since first publication and the reader is cautioned accordingly.