BASINGSTOKE and Deane Borough Council is at the centre of an information scare after personal details for nearly 2,000 residents were accidentally leaked by a member of staff.

Around 1,900 people, who are claiming housing benefit, were informed by the borough council yesterday that their details had been accidentally passed to an individual making a freedom of information request. Only those who were affected were contacted by the council.

Under the Freedom of Information Act, the council has to respond to requests for information.

The individual requested information on the number of people claiming housing benefit who rent a property from a private landlord.

However, in the reply to the request from the individual, a member of staff from the council accidentally sent them the personal details that were used to count how many people are received housing benefit and rent a privately-owned property.

As a result, claimant’s name, address, national insurance number, date of birth and details of any housing benefit they are claiming was sent to the individual.

A 47-year-old victim from Rooksdown, who did not want to be named, is just one of the 1,900 people that have been told their information has accidentally been released.

She told The Gazette: “I am worried and I am annoyed as well, there is a risk of identity fraud. I called them (the borough council) straight away and they listed what to do to protect yourself and they have said they are willing to pay for us to sign up to the UK’s Fraud Prevention Service and they are saying they will pay for everybody.

“They are obviously very worried and they were very apologetic on the phone.”

However, Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council has stressed that no bank details were sent out and the authority has no reason to suspect the information has been used for identity fraud or sold to a marketing agency, which may put people at risk of increased junk mail or sales calls.

The borough council has said that they have contacted the person that the information was incorrectly sent to but are yet to receive a reply.

The incident has also been reported to the police and the Information Commissioner and the borough council will carry out an independent investigation.

As well as advice being offered to the 1,900 residents to provide additional protection from fraud, the borough council has also set up a special helpline for affected residents.

Director of governance and commissioning at Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council, Laura Taylor said: “I am very sorry that this mistake has happened and for the inconvenience and distress this may cause.

“We take the security of personal information extremely seriously and we get a high volume of freedom of information requests. We have taken immediate steps to further tighten our procedures and will act on any lessons from the review and investigation.”

She added: “It is likely that the person who got the information was making enquiries to lots of different councils to compare statistics and will not even realise that they have the personal information, but we cannot be 100 per cent certain.

“I do not want to worry people unnecessarily but felt that it was only right that we let the people affected know what has happened and give them advice on what they can do to protect themselves with our help.”