Case Study 6-
Laois and Fingal County Councils - affordable housing, credit checks and website publicationsIt came to my attention that Laois County Council were requiring applicants for Council Loans and Affordable Housing to apply to the Irish Credit Bureau for details of their credit histories. The form given to applicants stated:
"The purpose of this form is to enable you to present to the Council details of any borrowings you may have with banks, building Societies or other agencies. It enables the Irish Credit Bureau to run a credit check against your accounts and to verify your current balance."
This statement was inaccurate as the Irish Credit Bureau does not hold information on current accounts. I pointed out to the local authority and to the Department of the Environment that my guidelines for the Credit Referencing sector (published in my Annual Report for 2000) stated that once personal data is stored on a credit referencing database, it should be used only for bona fide credit referencing purposes in accordance with the consent given by the data subjects, and not for other purposes, such as assessment of individuals’ financial standing by a local authority. In any event, the data held by the Irish Credit Bureau is solely for the information of and accessible by Irish Credit Bureau members (i.e. financial institutions) while individuals themselves may also seek a copy of their credit history.
I made it clear that while applicants for Council loans may choose to disclose to the Council, information which they have obtained from the Irish Credit Bureau regarding their financial position, the Council may not oblige them to do so. It is, of course, acceptable for the County Council to request evidence of financial standing from loan applicants, but to oblige them to apply to the Irish Credit Bureau and to provide the results to the Council would be a contravention of the Data Protection Acts. Following my intervention, I was satisfied that Laois County Council had revised their procedures but in order to avoid a similar situation arising with other local authorities, I brought the matter to the attention of the Department of the Environment.
I also received a complaint about the publication by Fingal County Council on their website of the details of people who purchased houses under the Affordable Housing Scheme. I established that under local authority legislation, in the interests of openness and transparency, Fingal County Council were obliged to make available to the public details of proceedings of the Council, minutes of meetings etc. Section 1(4)(b) of the Data Protection Acts, 1988 and 2003 provides:
"This Act does not apply to-
......(b) personal data consisting of information that the person keeping the data is required by law to make available to the public,"
This meant that if details of those who purchased houses under the Affordable Housing / Shared Ownership Scheme are included in Council minutes which are required by law to be made available to the public then such data are not subject to the Data Protection Acts, 1988 and 2003. However, when I became aware of the concerns of individuals whose personal details were displayed on the Fingal County Council website, I had discussions with the Council who agreed that the personal details of applicants for the Affordable Housing / Shared Ownership scheme would be removed from the Council website. This reflects the important principle (published in Case Study 3/03) that even where there is legislation providing that information must be made available to the public, this may not always mean that it is appropriate to place such information on a website. However, full details will still be available for public inspection at the Council Offices as is required by legislation. The website will provide general information about the allocation of houses under the Scheme and will draw attention to the fact that full details will still be available for inspection at the Council Offices. I was grateful for the responsible manner in which Fingal County Council addressed my concerns.
even where there is legislation providing that information must be made available to the public, this may not always mean that it is appropriate to place such information on a website.
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