Ealing council has been warned over data protection failings after a social worker left a court bundle containing “sensitive” information on the roof of her car and drove off.
Personal data relating to 27 people, including 14 children, was lost following the incident in February. After realising the files were missing the social worker searched the car park, retraced her journey home and made local enquiries but the documents were never recovered.
The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) criticised the local authority for failing to act on previous advice and improve training for its staff to make sure they knew how to look after personal information.
The council has signed up to measures to improve its data protection practices in light of the incident.
Sally-Anne Poole, enforcement manager at the ICO, said: “Many of us have no choice but to take work out of the office. But when that work includes personal data, there is an obligation to ensure its kept safe. People have a right to expect that will happen.
“Losing personal data – especially sensitive data – can cause damage and distress to the people involved.”
The ICO said 27% of Ealing’s social workers were temporary but the authority had no record of them having completed refresher data protection training.
The social worker involved had received training on data protection, but the commissioner’s investigation found only 68% of permanent staff in children’s social care had completed refresher training.
“It’s vital that if councils are using temporary staff they make sure they, as well as permanent staff, are up to speed with how to look after people’s personal information,” Poole said.
An Ealing council spokesperson said: “We regret that this has happened and fully accept the findings and recommendations of the ICO which we have begun to implement.”