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Government departments criticised over data sharing mistake

Three government agencies have been criticised over a data sharing mistake that led to the wrongful disclosure of a woman's personal and financial information.

HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC), the Child Support Agency and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) have been criticised by Parliamentary Ombudsman Ann Abraham for releasing the woman's personal information to her former partner and reducing her child support payments without her knowledge. The report said the departments had then 'collectively failed' to put things right.

Abraham expressed concern that the network of computer systems used by HMRC, the Child Support Agency and the DWP could make changes to Ms M's personal data without her knowledge or consent. Yet an interrogation of that network cannot now locate the source of any errors.

Each of the agencies blamed another for the mistake and took the view that as the mistake had been made by 'the system' and that there was nothing they could do, found Abraham.

"There is an important warning here for all public bodies. The lessons from Mrs M's experience and my investigation are not only about information sharing. Public bodies need to learn to get their administration right, to be customer-focused, be open and accountable and to work together to put things right when mistakes occur," she said.

The Ombudsman recommended that Ms M be given an apology, £2,000 compensation and an assurance that her details have been checked on every database owned by the three agencies involved.


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