The main Civil Service union has said the loss of millions of child benefit records by officials at HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) is due to lack of resources and job cuts.
Yesterday (20 November) chancellor Alistair Darling revealed that two computer discs containing the entire child benefit database of 25 million people had been lost in the post by HMRC.
The personal details on the discs included names, ages, bank and address details. HMRC chairman Paul Gray has already resigned over the fiasco, which he described as a “serious operational failing”.
Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services Union, which has thousands of members in HMRC, said the loss of confidential data should be set in the context of the enormous pressure being placed on the department.
The union said that government imposed job cuts totalling 25,000 by 2011, the merger two years ago between the Inland Revenue and Customs and Excise departments, and ongoing restructuring, had all played a part in the situation.
“With additional security checks expected to be put in place for people claiming and making enquiries about child benefit, we urge the government to put extra resources into HMRC rather than continuing with cutting jobs,” Serwotka said.
Jonathan Baume, general secretary of the FDA, the union for senior public servants, said the decision of Gray to take accountability for the error was an example of “British public service at its best”.
He said: “We believe that public trust in the Civil Service and the wider public services is best maintained where there is clear and transparent accountability, and when things go wrong, the public wants to understand where this lies.”
The Independent Police Complaints Commission has announced it will use its own investigators to examine the loss of the discs.