A county council which left files that included sensitive information about children in a cabinet sent to a second hand shop has been fined £60,000 by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).

The breach by Norfolk County Council came to light after social work case files were discovered in a cabinet purchased by a member of the public from a second hand shop. The case files included information relating to seven children.

Steve Eckersley, ICO Head of Enforcement, said:

“The council had disposed of some furniture as part of an office move but had failed to ensure that the cabinets were empty before disposal.

“Councils have a duty to look after any personal information they hold, all the more so when highly sensitive information is concerned – in particular about adults and children in vulnerable circumstances.

“For no good reason Norfolk County Council appears to have overlooked the need to ensure it had robust measures in place to protect this information. It should have had a written procedure in place which made it clear that any storage items removed from the office which may have contained personal were thoroughly checked before disposal.”

Having the appropriate staff and procedures in place is key to ensuring councils look after personal information properly.

This will be crucial when a new data protection law called the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) – setting high standards for organisations when it comes to the privacy of personal data - comes into force from May 2018.

Notes to Editors

  1. The Information Commissioner’s Office upholds information rights in the public interest, promoting openness by public bodies and data privacy for individuals.
  1. The ICO has specific responsibilities set out in the Data Protection Act 1998, the Freedom of Information Act 2000, Environmental Information Regulations 2004 and Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003.
  2. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is a new law that will replace the Data Protection Act 1998 and will apply in the UK from 25 May 2018. The government has confirmed that the UK’s decision to leave the EU will not affect the commencement of the GDPR.
  3. The ICO can take action to change the behaviour of organisations and individuals that collect, use and keep personal information. This includes criminal prosecution, non-criminal enforcement and audit. The ICO has the power to impose a monetary penalty on a data controller of up to £500,000.
  4. Anyone who processes personal information must comply with eight principles of the Data Protection Act, which make sure that personal information is:

fairly and lawfully processed;

processed for limited purposes;

adequate, relevant and not excessive;

accurate and up to date;

not kept for longer than is necessary;

processed in line with your rights;

secure; and

not transferred to other countries without adequate protection.

  1. Civil Monetary Penalties (CMPs) are subject to a right of appeal to the (First-tier Tribunal) General Regulatory Chamber against the imposition of the monetary penalty and/or the amount of the penalty specified in the monetary penalty notice.
  1. Any monetary penalty is paid into the Treasury’s Consolidated Fund and is not kept by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).
  1. To report a concern to the ICO telephone our helpline 0303 123 1113 or go to ico.org.uk/concerns.