“Human error” blamed for personal data breaches at Sheffield Council

Thefts from social workers and printing errors with parking tickets were among hundreds of data breaches at Sheffield Council last year.

By Lucy Ashton, Local Democracy Reporter
Monday, 30th November 2020, 12:30 pm

The council is required to note, assess and deal with any information security or personal data breaches and logged 231 incidents during 2019/20.

Of these, 92 were personal data breaches. The majority involved customers and were caused by human error with emails or post being delivered to the wrong person.

Of these breaches, five were considered serious enough to be reported to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).

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Sheffield Town Hall

They included 279 parking fine letters which were printed double-sided instead of single-sided.

This resulted in around 140 people receiving the names, addresses, and registration numbers of other people and one individual contacted the ICO.

Council director Mark Gannon said: “Incidents can be events that have happened or near misses that affect or are likely to affect the confidentiality, integrity and availability of information.

“Data protection law requires organisations to notify the ICO of the personal data breaches that have a high and ongoing risk.

“Incidents and data breaches have been reported by all Portfolios. The services that handle sensitive personal data are at greater risk because an incident or breach is more likely to have a greater impact on the customer and therefore meet the threshold to notify the ICO.

“There is a continuing and critical need to manage the information we have, safely and securely, to continue to implement sound data protection practice, and to ensure all staff are aware of their responsibilities and have received and completed all the necessary training.”

Tribunal documents were sent to four individuals involved in a housing benefit appeal. The documents included information about each of the individuals, so all four people had access to each other’s health and financial information.

The council reported the breach to the ICO itself and contacted the affected parties to ask for the documents to be returned.

A social worker’s car was broken into and information about individuals was stolen. The council reported the breach to the ICO and notified the affected parties. The council reviewed its practice and issued internal guidance about remote working with paper documents.

Education, Health and Care Plans were posted to a family, but the posted documents never arrived. The council reviewed its practice and issued internal guidance about sending sensitive documents via tracked post.

And a social worker’s house was broken into and the officer’s paper notebook and phone were stolen. The council reported the breach to the ICO.

The ICO took no further action in any of the five cases, although it does have the power to take enforcement action against an organisation.

In 2018/19 there were 248 incidents logged – 116 were classed as personal data breaches.

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