Councils, solicitors, NHS and police reprimanded for leaking domestic abuse victims’ personal details

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Councils, solicitors, an NHS trust and the police have been reprimanded for revealing the personal details of domestic abuse victims.

The UK information commissioner warns the data breaches place victims lives at risk – with most incidents involving organisations revealing the victim’s home address to their alleged perpetrator. In one instance, a family had to be urgently relocated to emergency accommodation.

The commissioner said they have dished out reprimands to seven organisations – including a law firm, a housing association, an NHS trust, a government department, a police force and local councils – for data violations impacting domestic abuse survivors since June 2022.

South Wales Police disclosed the identities of women who applied for information under the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme and the Child Sex Offender Disclosure Scheme to the people they were asking for information about or to their partners in a case in August last year. The partner had previous convictions for violence and sexual assault in one instance.

The commissioner called for organisations to provide their staff with proper training as well as implement systems to stop such incidents from happening.

Another case involved a woman who contacted Bolton at Home in June last year as she was looking for different housing after allegedly being subjected to domestic abuse. The organisation accidentally left a message on her husband’s phone, who she was planning to leave, which had details of the new place she was moving to.

One incident involved Wakefield Council posting a court bundle, as part of Child Protection Legal Proceedings, which contained the address of the mother and her two children to the children’s father in September 2022.

The mother and her two children then went into different emergency housing on the same day of the breach – with the commissioner’s office saying she was scared of the father “due to a history of ongoing domestic violence and a break-in to her previous accommodation”.

Farah Nazeer, chief executive of leading domestic abuse charity Women’s Aid, said: “The safety of personal information for women and children experiencing domestic abuse is of the utmost importance and can be a matter of life and death.

“A perpetrator of domestic abuse assumes control of a woman throughout their relationship, and this does not end, but often escalates after separation.

“Women and their children are at significant risk when leaving an abusive partner and reaching out to public services – such as the police, councils, hospitals, lawyers, housing and benefits teams – for help.”

She warned the “highly concerning” data violations “have undermined women’s safety” as well as exerting “severe consequences for women and children’s lives” and demonstrating “just how urgently public services need to improve their understanding and responses to domestic abuse.”

John Edwards, UK Information Commissioner, said: “These families reached out for help to escape unimaginable violence, to protect them from harm and to seek support to move forward from dangerous situations. But the very people that they trusted to help, exposed them to further risk.”

A spokesperson for Bolton at Home said it “fully supported ICO’s investigation into what was a serious and regrettable incident”.

The spokesperson added: “Data protection is of the utmost importance to us, and we’ve taken significant steps to minimise the risk of further breaches since this incident happened in March 2021.”

A spokesperson for South Wales Police said: “We fully accept the findings of the ICO investigation and have already introduced training to ensure that our staff and officers have the correct level of knowledge and understanding to ensure we meet the requirements of data protection legislation when making disclosures under Clare’s Law.”

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