Monday, 27 June 2011

Who can sell my personal information?

*** UPDATE Ministry of Justice says it's not considering banning these "referral fees", but won't rule out a ban ***

Behind the brouhaha raised by Jack Straw over ballooning personal injury claims lies a nagging question about data protection.

Remember, it's all about the barrage of texts and calls that accident victims get from claims companies who want to bring a personal injury case for them on a no-win-no-fee basis, even when they haven't been injured.

Hence, a huge rise in hard-to-prove whiplash awards, at £3,000 a time. And the cost of car insurance rising by 30% a year.

What happens is that insurers, brokers and lawyers are paid referral fees by the claims companies for passing on the personal details of customers who have been involved in an accident.

Breakdown companies, police and even nurses have cottoned on as well, cashing in on a valuable commodity: accident victims' contact details.

So what are the rules?

Well, if your agreement with an insurance firm or an insurance broker contains a clause saying "We may pass on your information to third parties..." or something like that, then they can do it -- as long as you agreed.

Under the Data Protection Act, your personal information has to be used in the way you expect.

But nurses, police officers and ambulance drivers? How can it be OK for them to pass on people's names and even contact details?

In fact, it isn't. It's against the law. There would be an unlimited fine in a Crown Court.

The Information Commissioner prosecuted one case successfully this month. An employee of a claims company was fined £1,000 plus costs for receiving information on 29 patients who turned up at NHS walk-in centres.

It's thought the details came via a nurse.

But that was just one case, compared with millions of unsolicited texts and calls and a £14bn personal injury bill.

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