Business Law: Victoria Spellman explains how a data breach cost a council a £150,000 fine

Victoria Spellman of Gotelee Solicitors

Victoria Spellman of Gotelee Solicitors - Credit: Archant

If your organisation deals with personal data, you need to fully understand your legal obligations. Failure to do so could land you with a severe penalty – as one Essex council discovered.

Basildon Council was recently fined £150,000 for publishing sensitive personal information about a traveller family on its website, including details about disabilities and mental health issues.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) ruled the authority had breached the Data Protection Act when it failed to remove personal data contained in the details of a planning application, which was made publicly available online.

The council received a written statement in support of a planning application for proposed works on green belt land on July 16, 2015. The statement contained sensitive personal data relating to the traveller family who had lived on the site for several years.

The ICO said an inexperienced council officer did not notice the personal information, and there was no procedure in place for a second person to check it before it was published online. The information was only removed on September 4, 2015 when the concerns came to light.

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ICO enforcement manager Sally Anne Poole said: “This was a serious incident in which highly sensitive personal data, including medical information, was made publicly available.” A spokesman for Basildon Council said the authority was considering appealing.

How can our business law solicitors help? Understanding the requirements of the Data Protection Act 1998 is a key responsibility for any business. And if your organisation deals with public bodies such as local authorities and councils, you need to understand your obligations under the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

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Our specialist team of business law solicitors in Ipswich can help ensure you don’t fall foul of the law and leave yourself exposed to a severe penalty. We can give advice on all aspects of data protection and freedom of information, as well as the incoming GDPR.

To find out more, visit one of our offices in Ipswich, Hadleigh, Felixstowe, Melton or Woodbridge, call Victoria Spellman on 01473 298181, email or visit

• Victoria Spellman is a partner and commercial lawyer at Gotelee Solicitors.

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