Data Protection Commissioner

CASE STUDY 4/98

Credit record - issue of accuracy - review of credit referencing computer system

The complainant ('person A') was refused a loan to buy a car. He made an access request under section 4 of the Data Protection Act to a credit referencing agency in order to see his credit record. His record showed that he had borrowed a sum of money from a certain financial institution ('Institution X') some years previously, and that this loan had not been repaid. His record also showed that a number of other financial institutions had recently made enquiries about his credit record. Person A immediately recognised that he had never taken out any such loan.

Person A then made enquiries with Institution X. He established that the record of the loan related to a person ('person B') with the same name as his own and a similar address, but with a different date of birth. Person A raised this matter with my Office, requesting that I investigate "the wrong/misleading information given out by [the agency] to certain financial institutions in relation to loan applications made by [him]".

I took the case up with the agency. On checking its archive records, it emerged that the problem had originated several years previously. At that time, the agency had received a request for a credit check of person B from Institution X. The search had shown no record in respect of person B at that time. However, the agency had decided to provide the information it kept in respect of person A to Institution X in view of the similarity of A and B's details. Institution X had erroneously appended the agency's reference number for person A to the details of the loan made to person B. When Institution X subsequently recorded the details of person B's loan with the agency using the erroneous reference number, the agency had automatically appended these details to person A's record. This accounted for the inaccuracy of person A's credit record.

Section 2(1)(b) of the Data Protection Act provides that personal data "shall be accurate and, where necessary, kept up to date". It is clear that in this case, information relating to the complainant was not accurate in that it included details of a loan which did not relate to him, and accordingly I upheld the complaint. However, I also took note of the fact that the agency immediately rectified its records in respect of the complainant, as required under section 6 of the Act, and also undertook to notify its clients of the rectification of the incorrect data. I also received an assurance from the agency that it had amended its computer systems so that new credit details which contained the agency's customer record numbers would no longer be associated automatically with existing records.

As to the root cause of the difficulties in this case, my decision noted that the credit reference agency was not justified in its original disclosure of person A's details to Institution X in response to a query about person B, who was clearly distinguishable from A.






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