Government Agencies Slammed Over Data Errors

The Parliamentary Ombudsman has slammed three government agencies after a data sharing mistake that led to the wrongful disclosure of a Bristol woman’s personal details and the reduction of her child support payments.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), Child Support Agency and HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) have been criticised by Ombudsman Ann Abraham for errors dating back to 2006 when the details of the woman (known as Mrs M) were wrongly updated to show her living at her former partner’s address - despite never having lived there.

Describing the case as “extremely distressing”, Abraham said that Mrs M had been "passed from one government agency to the next, each denying responsibility" after the mistake was discovered.

“The lessons from Ms M's experience and my investigation are not only about information sharing,” the Ombudsman said. “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.”

“Unless all this happens, public bodies run the risk of making other people feel the way Ms M told me she feels: that she will never be able to trust a government agency again,” she added.

The departments have accepted Abraham’s findings and Mrs M has been awarded £2,000 in compensation.