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Data Protection the DVLA Way

Just don't ask awkward questions

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Don’t mess with the DVLA, or bad things might happen to your data.

At least, that is the experience of Register reader, James Collins, who has been at odds with the DVLA for the best part of a year over what he believes to be serious inadequacies in its handling of penalty notices.

Let’s park that issue for now. After a year of getting nowhere, Mr Collins turned to The Register and LibDem MP Norman Baker for help. This stirred the DVLA into action: it set the debt collectors on to him.

To be fair, it also began talking to him seriously again: a Freedom of Information request submitted some months back might now receive a serious answer.

But it is with the debt collection agency that the story turns a little odd.

As far as we are aware, Mr Collins does owe the DVLA some money. At the heart of this dispute is a claim by Mr Collins that he doesn’t owe it quite as much money as it thinks he does. He understood, perhaps mistakenly, that he would not be chased for this amount whilst the issue was under review.

This is not unusual: readers almost certainly know of cases where one arm of an organisation promises to put a debt on hold, whilst another (computerised) arm just carries right on enforcing.

What is interesting is the data that appears to be being used and possibly passed between DVLA and debt enforcers. Mr Collins fiercely resists anyone making use of his information without his permission.

So he was very surprised when he received a phone call from Moorcroft Debt Recovery, one of the UK’s largest debt collecting agencies, to his ex-directory phone number. He was even more surprised when a manager with this agency later refused to talk to him unless he provided his date of birth which, he was told, was held on the system.

However, a spokesperson for the DVLA said: "Where enforcement action is necessary, we pass on basic information to our appointed debt collection agencies.

"We don't tend to hold phone numbers - and these would certainly not be passed out."

The DVLA said it would be very unlikely that it would hand over anyone's date of birth.

Moorcroft was, initially, rather sceptical of Mr Collins’ claims. Their spokesperson was adamant that it does not consult external sources of information and only use what it is given by the DVLA.

This changed after Moorcroft spoke to Mr Collins again - and asked him if he could possibly hand over his phone number. The reason? According to Mr Collins, they explained that his number was not now on the system, but it might have been a week ago. If he gave them his number, they could check to see if they had phoned it!

They also became distinctly chillier towards The Register, requesting all further questions be sent in writing – and demanding to see our bona fides before they would deal with us at all.

We did submit a series of questions to Moorcroft, asking it to confirm or deny Mr Collins’ version of events and to explain, if his version is accurate, how it came by his personal data legally. Moorcroft said it had no wish to respond at this stage, although it assured us it had not in acted illegally any way.

Commenting on this affair, the LibDem Transport spokesman Norman Baker MP said:

"The DVLA must be very careful not to inappropriately release data on private individuals. Information given to the DVLA is given for necessary minimum purposes and these must be respected. Unfortunately, the DVLA’s history of giving out data to clampers and others already raises concerns.

"If, on the other hand, the agency has obtained data from a private source, that also raises questions."

On the balance of probabilities, it does look as though the DVLA is not guilty of any overt impropriety in this case - however, it has yet to give any indication that it is prepared to investigate the fairly serious charges made by Mr Collins. ®

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