Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Data Protection? Don't make me laugh.

I received a third letter through my letterbox. Mr Mirwais Jabarkhyl was a complete stranger to me. I have never met him and yet, after 22 years of living blissfully in ignorance of him it appears he lived with us. I never noticed him day after day. He did not have a bed to sleep in. He didn't touch my food. He never used any of my resources. And yet someone somewhere decided he lived there. It reminds me of the following poem.

As I was walking up the stairs
I met a man who wasn't there
He wasn't there again today
I wish that man would go away.

When the first letter arrived, from Barclays Bank. The letter contained a bank statement. As this was the first of such missives I can only assume that Barclays Bank made a mistake and got addresses mixed up. I can't verify that, of course, because now that Experian has (another assumption) Mr Mirwais Jabarkhyl's details linked to my address, only Mr Mirwais Jabarkhyl can request to see it. Why is that? Data protection. So where was data protection when I recieved Mr Mirwais Jabarkhyl's bank statement then? Is this not breaking the law?

Barclays bank were less than civil on the phone. They said to my wife, 'Oh just send the letter back and we'll deal with it'.

My wife replied, 'Hang on a minute. I want to know if someone is trying to steal my identity or has access to my details. I want to know how this Mr Jabarkhyl's details got linked with my address'.

They said, 'don't worry, its probably just an error'.

My wife was not happy with this and asked to speak to the supervisor, who tried to take her down the same route without looking into the problem. My wife said, 'I'm not happy with this. I'd like the address to where I can send a complaint.

The supervisor said, 'What do you want to do that for? I've dealt with your complaint'.


Taking into account the level of customer service delivered here, it sounds like my wife was asking the bank to walk the length of the country without good reason. In other words my wife was making a fuss over some piddly, infinitesimal minor error. It was a little mistake alright?

Ten days later we got a letter for Mr Mirwais Jabarkhyl from Barclaycard. This was not a good sign and the little mistake was beginning to look like it was going to have significant consequences. I wrote to Barclaycard to tell them in no uncertain terms to take my address and Mr Mirwais Jabarkhyl and put them in separate rooms. He does not live here. He has never lived here. He will never live here and if I catch him and find he gave my address on purpose, he may not live in the future.

Another ten days elapsed before the third letter, which at this point I am now making a big fuss. This time it was a letter for Mr Mirwais Jabarkhyl from a debt collecting agency called Red. It was precisely the sort of thing my wife wanted to avoid but it seemed that somewhere in the administration that linked Mr Jabarkhyl to our address, the credit rating agencies like Experian get the information that bailiffs and tracing agencies use.

I phoned Red in order to find out where they got this information from. They suggested phoning Experian. I phoned Experian. I told them I had no interest in my credit rating but I wanted to know if they were holding Mr Mirwais Jabarkhyl's address as my address and if so, where did they get that misinformation from. They told me that, because I was no Mr Mirwais Jabarkhyl they could not access the personal details because of data protection.

Data protection my foot! I now had details of Mr Mirwais Jabarkhyl's bank account, card account and knowledge that he owned a 3G mobile for which he had not paid £20.93. I can say this because Barclays Bank, Barclaycard and Red Debt Collection Services made Mr Jabarkhyl's personal details public domain the minute they sent the information to the wrong address. Sending his details to my house is a breach of data protection and it appears that the law does not support any rectification of such a breach.

I was frustrated and angry. The guy at Experian was very nice and supportive. He said that he had personal experience of this too and so had thousands of others. In other words it is a significant enough problem that something has to change. In this case it is the law itself that needs amending.

I should be able to approach Experian the letters I should not have received and with a written statement that declares legally that Mr Mirwais Jabarkhyl did not and does not live in my house. Experian will then have the authorisation to access Mr Jabarkhyl's database details, make the necessary amendments with a note to say why it was changed, what evidence was seen, who requested the change and who was responsible for providing the erroneous information in the first place.

Experian can then go to the business that provided the incorrect information and charge them the administration costs for having to go through all that fuss and also to compensate the victim proportionately to the inconvenience and suffering. Right now I am annoyed and have spent an afternoon setting up a campaign to get the law changed. My compensation would be a token payment, lets say about £25 in today's money. However, as soon as I get bailiffs on my doorstep I would expect the payment to be proportionate to the bill the bailiff are seeking plus their charge. Because by the time they add £100 in service charges the demand wrongly placed on my address should now be reflected in the compensation.

I have spoken to a number of people tied up in this whole affair. The debt collection service representative, I believe, summed up the attitude of many businesses that 'it just happens'. Well I'm sorry if I do not subscribe to that sense of apathy but I think it needs to stop just happening.

Consequently I have started a campaign that I hope you will all join to show your support. I have written to my local MP and, for those of you who are already experiencing this little nightmare you are welcome to follow my template on Facebook group 'Change The Data Protection Act' and please don't forget to sign up in support, as I will be able to demonstrate to MPs the strength of feeling we all have when these awful letters just turn up on our doorstep.

So when you attempt to find out who has sent someone else's bill to your address and they say they can't help because of data protection. Maybe we should all just use my group page to publish the letter we received, who it was for, who it was from and how much they owe and then alert the police to the list and who they should prosecute for breach of data protection. Data protection? Don't make me laugh.

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