Over 1,000 DWP staff taken to task for benefits record snooping

By Danny Palmer
10 Jan 2014 View Comments
New DWP office

More than 1,000 employees at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) have been taken to task for looking at sensitive benefits information, raising privacy concerns inside the largest government department.

It marks the latest in a line of ICT-related embarrassments for the DWP, following a string of IT project management issues that continue to plague the department's new Universal Credit system. A DWP source revealed the full extent of the problems in an interview with Computing in November last year.

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But according to information published in The Telegraph following a freedom of information (FOI) request, problems at the DWP don't end there.

A total of 1,100 department employees have received verbal warnings in the past five years for unauthorised snooping on benefits records, or as it's called by the DWP, "inappropriate access or browsing of personal/customer records".

Citizens claiming pensions, child support payments, tax credits, Job Seekers Allowance and more are among those who've had DWP staff access their details without authorisation. In addition to the verbal warnings, 422 staff received written warnings and 585 received final written warnings, revealed the FOI request.

The Telegraph report also revealed a number of other examples of inappropriate use of computers within the government department, with hundreds of employees warned about how they used the web, including cautions for sending inappropriate emails and accessing pornographic content.

However, a DWP statement said the figures only represent a tiny minority of its staff and argued that most take the utmost care when it comes to conduct within the department.

"DWP is the biggest government department and over this five-year period we have employed over 150,000 people, with the vast majority adhering to the professional standards," said a spokesman.

"DWP takes inappropriate use of IT systems very seriously which is why we monitor daily usage and have robust policies in place to deal with the minority of cases of abuse."

David Howell, European director of enterprise IT management company ManageEngine, added that the FOI request demonstrates the need for government departments to properly manager IT use.

"These findings underline the importance of implementing a more rigorous acceptable use policy, to uphold high standards and ensure confidential data is managed securely," he said.

Incidents such as these can potentially undermine the integrity and standards of an organisation and as such it is vital to have robust policies around IT use for employees in the workplace," Howell concluded.

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