Leading contractors paid annual fee to obtain sensitive data on potential staff

More than 40 construction companies, including leading m&e firms, have been accused of covertly purchasing personal data about potential employees.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has revealed that a raid on premises in Droitwich uncovered a blacklist containing sensitive information on 3213 workers. Construction firms would use the list to vet potential workers, with data including details of trade union activity and general employment history.

Ian Kerr, the owner of a firm known as the Consulting Association, appears to have run the database for more than 15 years. The ICO has uncovered evidence at Kerr’s premises that construction firms subscribed to Kerr’s system for a £3000 annual fee. Companies could add information to the system and pay £2.20 for details held on individuals. Invoices to construction firms for up to £7500 were also seized.

Named firms include NG Bailey, Haden Young, Balfour Kilpatrick, Crown House Technologies, Diamond M&E Services, Spie Mathew Hall (ex-member), SES and Sias Building Services.

Unite Amicus national officer Tom Hardacre said: “We’ve been aware for many, many years of the possibility that this information exists and that the employers have it at their disposal.

“While I’m sorry these firms operate in such a way, I’m very glad to see that what has been suggested by the trade unions has now been confirmed in the report.”

The ICO has served an enforcement notice ordering Kerr to stop using the system. Kerr has ceased trading and now faces prosecution by the ICO for breaching the Data Protection Act.

Deputy information commissioner David Smith said: “Not only were personal details held on individuals without their knowledge or consent but the very existence of the database was repeatedly denied.”

Smith added: “The Data Protection Act clearly states that organisations must be open about how they process personal information, and in most cases those processing personal information must register with the ICO – Mr Kerr did not comply with the law on either count.”

Hardacre commented: “We’ve heard past debates in the House of Commons that really haven’t manifested themselves – to the extent that there hasn’t been a great deal done about this issue. We’ll be pressing the government to introduce strong legislation that punishes companies that act in this way.”

A representative from one of the accused firms, NG Bailey, said: “The company is taking these claims very seriously and an immediate and thorough investigation into the matter has been launched.”

The ICO has set up an enquiry system for people who believe personal details about them may be held on the database.