Almost 800 residents in Hakney sent Covid positive text messages in error

A generic stock photo of a woman using a mobile phone in central London.

Hundreds of Hackney residents were sent messages by mistake implying they had tested positive for Covid. - Credit: PA Images

Hundreds of residents were sent messages from the council in error last week, implying they had tested positive for Covid.

An anonymous tip, sent by a concerned member of staff manning the council's Covid helpline, reported that the texts led to angry and perplexed residents bombarding its main switchboard. 

The anonymous email alleged that the texts were mistakenly sent by Hackney IT's in-house tool, Here to Help, and that, "for some time now", complaints from staff about the "ineffectiveness" of the tool have gone unheeded. 

It also spoke of several in-house tools being developed by the council's IT department "on the cheap" due to the year-long cyber-attack which has affected council services since last October. 

This is not the first time Hackney's the department has found itself in hot water. In July, A Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) investigation revealed data breaches of sensitive and private information which put some vulnerable residents at risk.

But the council says its Here to Help tool is "critical" to its delivery of test and trace support and has been "highly successful", helping hundreds of residents who have tested positive with Covid over the past eight months.

Though the council accepts there is room for improvement and is working to make changes "for the better" following feedback from staff. 

A spokesperson for Hackney Council confirmed that it sent a message in error, using central government's text service, to around 750 residents on August 19. 

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They said the message asked residents to "urgently get in touch with the council 'about a Covid-19 test'.

The spokesperson added: "We apologise for the confusion and worry this message will have caused.

"There was no breach of residents’ data. The recipients are all residents who had previously interacted with the coronavirus response services.

"The mistake was made at manual data entry level, and we have put measures in place to prevent the error happening again in future."

The council says it received around 80 calls from residents who were advised of the error and a text message apologising for and clarifying the mistake was also sent to the same set of recipients.

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