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How many staff has HMRC caught snooping on records?

Noses out of our tax files, please

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Over 610 civil servants at HMRC have been disciplined or dismissed for inappropriately accessing tax records since the department was formed by the merger of Customs and Excise and the Inland Revenue three years ago.

Refreshingly, none have been caught reading HMRC personnel files, though more than 600 have been caught snooping on UK citizens' tax records.

In a written answer, financial secretary Jane Kennedy revealed that less than one per cent of total HMRC staff per year have been caught improperly accessing information.

Between April 2005 and December 2005 238 civil servants were disciplined or dismissed for snooping. Between January and December 2006 the figure was 180, and between January and December 2007 192 people were caught.

Kennedy told the Commons the numbers "reflect the strength of HMRC's internal disciplinary procedures".

She said: "Each case is treated on its merits but in many cases the disciplinary penalty for breach is dismissal."

Kennedy refused to reveal what training the so-called Data Guardians have been given. It was revealed last month that 37 guardians have been appointed - one for each business unit. These mythical creatures are meant to provide staff with guidance on protecting data and take responsibilty for screw-ups in their business units.

Asked how many staff had access to sensitive data and how many were allowed to download such information to disc she said access to data was controlled by user-role.

MPs were told it was not possible to provide information on how many staff had that access, or how many had received training because such information "could be collated only at a disproportionate cost.".

Kennedy also said HMRC had discussed 11 incidents of data security with the Information Commissioner's Office since April 2005.

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