Leading M&E contractors such as NG Bailey, Haden Young and Emcor paid an annual fee to obtain sensitive data.

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 over 15 years. The ICO has uncovered evidence at Kerr’s premises that named 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.

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.

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

The ICO has served an enforcement notice ordering Kerr to stop using the system. Kerr is to cease trading by the end of this week and he now faces prosecution by the ICO for breaching the Data Protection Act.

Deputy Information Commissioner David Smith said: “This is a serious breach of the Data Protection Act. Not only was personal information 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."

From 16 March, the ICO will operate an enquiry system for people who believe personal information about them may be held on the database.

The list below identifies the companies which subscribed to the Consulting Association. The use of brackets indicates where companies have undergone a change of name or where subsidiaries have been absorbed by parent companies. Ex members may no longer exist or no longer avail themselves of Kerr’s service.

  • Amec Building Ltd
  • Amec Construction Ltd
  • Amec Facilities Ltd
  • Amec Ind Div
  • Amec Process & Energy Ltd
  • Amey Construction – Ex Member
  • B Sunley & Sons – Ex Member
  • Balfour Beatty
  • Balfour Kilpatrick
  • Ballast (Wiltshire) PLc – Ex Member
  • Bam Construction (HBC Construction)
  • Bam Nuttall (Edmund Nutall Ltd)
  • C B & I
  • Cleveland Bridge UK Ltd
  • Costain UK Ltd
  • Crown House Technologies
  • (Carillion/Tarmac Const)
  • Diamond M & E Services
  • Dudley Bower & Co Ltd – Ex Member
  • Emcor (Drake & Scull) - ‘Ex Ref’
  • Emcor Rail
  • G Wimpey Ltd – Ex Member
  • Haden Young
  • Kier Ltd
  • John Mowlem Ltd -Ex Member
  • Laing O’Rourk (Laing Ltd)
  • Lovell Construction (UK) Ltd – Ex Member
  • Miller Construction Limited – Ex Member
  • Morgan Ashurst
  • Morgan Est
  • Morrison Construction Group –Ex Member
  • N G Bailey
  • Shepherd Engineering Services
  • Sias Building Services
  • Sir Robert McAlpine Ltd
  • Skanska (Kaverna/Trafalgar
  • House Plc)
  • SPIE (Matthew Hall) - Ex Member
  • Taylor Woodrow Construction Ltd – Ex Member
  • Turriff Construction Ltd –Ex Member
  • Tysons Contractors – Ex Member
  • Walter Llewellyn & Sons Ltd - Ex Member
  • Whessoe Oil & Gas
  • Willmott Dixon – Ex Member
  • Vinci PLC (Norwest Holst Group)