Is the Data Protection Act being used as a smokescreen?

By Mike White of Martin & Co lettings in Norwich 

The Government organisation that polices the Data Protection and Consumer Privacy laws, The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) is concerned that many lettings agents are failing to notify the privacy watchdog that they are handling people’s personal information. It is a legal requirement under the Data Protection Act (DPA) for all organisations handling personal information to notify the ICO.  As letting agents routinely process personal data, such as financial information, the ICO is warning the vast majority would be subject to the DPA and need to notify the ICO as a matter of urgency. Currently, nationwide, only 3,734 estate agents and 1,416 lettings agents appear on the public register, which makes up a small proportion of the industry. The ICO has written to a number of professional bodies, including the National Association of Estate Agents, the Association of Residential Lettings Agents and the National Federation of Property Professionals, to urge them to encourage their members to notify.  This sounds like a targeted campaign by the ICO to bring the property industry into line. However, if their encouragement is ignored, they will undoubtedly take action against those who flout the law, as they have done in the past with other industry sectors. Unfortunately, the lettings industry is still populated by agents who care very little for their clients or have insufficient professional knowledge required to undertake the job properly. As I’ve said before only the serious professionals bother submitting themselves to any form of external regulation and the fact there is such widespread non – compliance with the Data Protection Act is a further indication of just how many “non – professionals” there are”.

In recent articles, I have been urging landlords and tenants to check very carefully the bona fides of their letting agent before entrusting either money or property to them. This includes checking they are properly registered with the ICO which is very simply accomplished by a quick visit to their website. I have checked recently and even surprised myself at how many Norwich based agents are not registered. As an aside, the number of new landlord clients who come to Martin & Co and tell me their previous agent used the Data Protection Act as a smokescreen to avoid sharing information with them, never ceases to amaze me. It makes the cynic in me wonder if they were hiding behind the DPA for a reason?

Mike White can be contacted at Martin & Co on 01603 766860 at 1 Charing Cross Norwich.

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