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Letting Agent fined for attempted Data Protection Act breach

A letting agent has been fined £200, ordered to pay a £15 victim surcharge and asked to pay £728.60 in prosecution costs after he was found guilty of illegally trying to obtain information regarding a tenant’s financial status.

The agent, A Mr Pinchas Braun, called the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and tried to access the personal information of the tenant. When he failed to be able to confirm the middle name of the tenant in question, the DWP ended the call and informed the ICO of the incident.

Braun, who at the time worked for Manor West Estates property management company, had no authority to access such details. He could have received anything up to £5,000 by way of a fine; unlawfully obtaining or accessing personal data is a criminal offence under section 55 of the Data Protection Act 1998.

Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham, said:

“The Department for Work and Pensions hold important information about each and every one of us. We are very pleased that a DWP staff member was alert to this attempt to blag information and that the call was halted before it was too late.

“The motive behind Mr Braun’s action was financial. He knew that such an underhand method of obtaining the tenant’s personal information was illegal but carried on regardless.

“This case shows that unscrupulous individuals will continue to try and blag peoples’ details until a more appropriate range of deterrent punishments is available to the courts. There must be no further delay in introducing tougher powers to enforce the Data Protection Act beyond the current ‘fine only’ regime,” Mr Graham said.

“The contrast is striking in the penalties available for blagging under the Fraud Act on the one hand and under the Data Protection Act on the other. On the same day, prison sentences were handed down in one court with chicken feed fines being imposed in another – all for the same activity”.