Page last updated at 18:55 GMT, Sunday, 13 April 2008 19:55 UK

Sensitive data 'lost by councils'

compact disks
A string of high-profile data loss cases have hit the headlines recently

Personal data about members of the public has been lost or wrongly revealed by 13 London councils in the last year, a BBC survey has found.

Some 23 councils replied to the freedom of information request, with more than half saying data had been lost, stolen or inadvertently disclosed.

In one instance, sensitive information about children in care was stolen when a youth worker took files into a bar.

The Local Government Association said new guidelines were being produced.

Disciplinary action

The research for BBC Radio 5 Live's Donal MacIntyre programme found that in 2007 a social worker from Kensington and Chelsea Council took personal files home to prepare for a court hearing.

But the files containing court reports and a review of a statement of special educational needs were stolen from a bag while they were in a pub.

In another case four months later, a notebook containing the names and addresses of 12 young people in care was stolen from a Kensington and Chelsea Council youth worker while he was in a bar after work.

Some social services departments and some social workers have quite a careless attitude towards these documents
Dr Jim Goddard
Care Leavers' Association

A spokesman for the council insisted it took the security of personal data "extremely seriously".

"Where it is clear our policies have not been correctly followed we always undertake a management investigation and disciplinary action is taken when appropriate," he added.

Meanwhile, the survey found 375 student files were stolen from Havering Council in October 2007.

They contained copies of birth certificates and parents' P60 annual tax statements for students applying for grants for higher education.

'Careless attitude'

The council said the papers were stored outside in a secure metal container before incineration and suggested the container was the target of the theft.

Dr Jim Goddard of the Care Leavers' Association branded the cases "appalling", adding: ¿Some social services departments and some social workers have quite a careless attitude towards these documents.

"Many of them just don't appreciate how important and sensitive they are.¿

Tim Allen of the Local Government Association emphasised that data security was very important to local government.

The LGA is now working to produce new guidelines for councils following the major loss of child benefit data by Revenue and Customs.

Hear the Donal MacIntyre programme on Sunday 13 April at 1900 BST on BBC Radio 5 Live or afterwards at the Donal MacIntyre website.

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