The government risked being sued by members of the public after a sacked Jobcentre worker was given confidential details of benefit claimants.
Colin Blair was given notebooks containing personal information including National Insurance numbers when he collected his belongings from a Jobcentre Plus branch.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has insisted the public was protected by confidentiality rules, but legal experts condemned the slip-up.
Adam Turner, employment lawyer at law firm Lovells, told Personnel Today: “Employers are required by law to keep information about people secure. Where there is a breach of the Data Protection Act, members of the public can sue for damage done and distress caused. There could also be a thorough investigation from the information commissioner.”
Blair handled claims for welfare benefits at the Jobcentre Plus contact centre in Newcastle-upon-Tyne until he was dismissed in September after long-term sickness. He was then given a box by his manager that contained personal items from his desk – along with four notebooks packed with names, addresses, benefit claims and other details.
“For more than three weeks, I had these papers at home,” Blair said. “I tried relentlessly to get a receipt for their return, e-mailing my former manager, the district manager, the chief executive and several others.”
Blair says he eventually threatened to contact the members of the public whose details he held – and only then did the Jobcentre pick up the notepads.
A DWP spokeswoman said: “We are satisfied that the identities of customers were never at risk. Mr Blair is bound by strict confidentiality rules.
“Disclosure of personal information provided to the department is prohibited.”