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Adoptive family forced to move house and change names after huge Hackney Council data breach

PUBLISHED: 07:30 25 July 2019

Hackney Council posted a letter containing the adoptive family's deatils to the birth parents. Picture: PA

Hackney Council posted a letter containing the adoptive family's deatils to the birth parents. Picture: PA

PA Archive/PA Images

A family who adopted a child were forced to move home and change their names after their details were mistakenly sent to the birth parents.

Hackney Council paid out £106,000 in damages following the serious data breach, including £25,000 for the distress caused and £39,000 to fund the house move.

During the adoption process in 2016 a council solicitor issued a notice of a family court hearing to the birth parents, but mistakenly included a copy of the application form which had not been redacted.

As a result, the couple's names, address, phone numbers, dates of birth and occupations were included. After speaking to council officers and police, they decided moving was the safest option.

As well as the claim for damages, the family complained to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman.

In a report, the ombudsman said: "I accept the data breach caused Mr and Mrs X a great amount of distress and inconvenience.

"On advice from the council and the police they had to move house and change their names. Mr X explained to me how stressful this was and that it happened at a critical time for their child. Mr X believes the situation had a negative impact on his son's development.

"The fault in this case is not in question. The council readily accepted its error and acted on it. It immediately took action to ensure Mr and Mrs X were aware of potential risks and it offered assistance.

"I am satisfied the council acted appropriately once it identified the data breach."

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After realising the monumental cock-up, the council told its data protection team and alerted the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO).

The ICO found the council had committed a breach but said no further action was necessary, even though it had the "potential to cause significant distress and detriment".

Adoptive families are hard to come by, and in 2017/18 only six were approved in Hackney, with three more in the first six months of 2018/19.

In February a couple who adopted three children in Suffolk were forced to install CCTV, darken windows and put up fences at their home after their details were given to the birth mother by accident.

Sue Armstrong Brown, chief exec of leading charity Adoption UK said: "Sadly this is just one in a series of shocking data leaks involving sensitive information about adopters.

"Adoption UK would argue for repercussions and reparations immediately in these cases. Being put at personal risk from birth families through negligence is an appalling breach of trust for adopters."

Adoption UK recently published a report that found a "disturbing" number of adoptive parents had been victims of data breaches, some of which had life-changing consequences.

The charity is now calling for a review of measures used by all agencies involved in the adoption process.

Hackney Council said regular training already takes place and put the breach down to "human error".

A spokesperson added: "We apologised unreservedly for this mistake and have agreed a significant financial settlement with those affected."

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