Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council has sent letters of apology to 1,900 housing benefit claimants after it leaked some of their personal details in response to an emailed Freedom of Information (FoI) request.
The local authority said it had reported the error to the police and the Information Commissioner but has been unable to get a reply from the person the data was sent to.
According to a council spokesperson, the FoI request asked how many housing benefit claimants were renting from a private landlord. It was sent by email with no further contact details. The spreadsheet sent in response included the names and addresses of claimants.
The authority said no bank details were released, adding: “The council has no reason to suspect that the information has been used for identity fraud…or to sell to a marketing agency.”
However, as a precaution, the borough has written to everyone affected, outlining steps they can take to protect themselves, and has offered to pay for extra monitoring of loans and other payments taken out in their name. The council has also set up a special helpline for affected residents.
The Information Commissioner’s Office will carry out an independent investigation into the breach, and the council will conduct its own internal review of its procedures.
Council director Laura Taylor said: “I am very sorry that this mistake has happened and for the inconvenience and distress this may cause…we have taken immediate steps to further tighten our procedures and will act on any lessons from the review and investigation.
She added: “It is likely that the person who got the information was making enquiries to lots of different councils to compare statistics and will not even realise that they have the personal information, but we cannot be 100 percent 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.”
The council was previously warned by the ICO after it broke information legislation on four separate occasions in 2011. These include an incident when an individual was accidentally sent data on 29 people in supported housing. The council was also rapped by the ICO in 2009 after a spreadsheet of more than 2,000 applicants for council jobs was released on the internet.