HMRC shared 5,000 citizen records with local councils in pilot ‘to analyse vulnerable and overlapping debtors’

Newly published information-sharing register reveals programme took place last autumn
Photo: Images Money/CC BY 2.0

By Sam Trendall

07 May 2021

HM Revenue and Customs shared with 13 local councils data on more than 5,000 citizens that owe money to government, as part of a pilot programme intended to “analyse vulnerable and overlapping debtors across a range of government departments and local authorities”.

The three-month trial scheme, which began on 29 June last year, also involved the Cabinet Office, Department for Work and Pensions, Student Loans Company, and three agencies of the Ministry of Justice: HM Courts and Tribunals Service, the Office of the Public Guardian, and the Legal Aid Agency.

The programme saw HMRC share data relating to 5,456 people that owe money to government. Information disclosed included unique identification codes, names, permanent addresses, contact or forwarding addresses and related identification data, National Insurance numbers, and dates of birth. All information was relayed via “government secure email”.

According to detail provided in government’s recently published register of public sector information-sharing agreements: “The aims of the pilot are to: achieve a better understanding of the debt owed to government from debtors and in particular vulnerable individuals; gain an understanding of areas of overlap where individuals owe debt to more than one government organisation; assess the feasibility of debt collection functions in government having a common list of vulnerable customers; [and] inform a recommendation for additional pilots and next steps.”

The 13 local authorities that took part in the pilot represented Birmingham, Bolton, Bradford, Brighton and Hove, Cornwall, Ealing, Enfield, Islington, Lewisham, Liverpool, Manchester, Rotherham, and Southwark.

CSW's sister title PublicTechnology has contacted HMRC requesting information on whether data-sharing has continued after the scheduled end date and details of any other policy or programme that have resulted.

The government information-sharing register contains details of all agreements between public sector bodies to share data under the provisions of the first four chapters of the fifth part of 2017’s Digital Economy Act.

These sections relate to the sharing of sensitive information for the purposes of “public service delivery, debt, fraud and civil registration”.

A total of 61 agreements are listed in the register.

Sam Trendall is editor of CSW's sister title PublicTechnology, where this article first appeared.

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