HMRC staff fired for looking at sensitive data

Hundreds of staff at HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) have been disciplined - and others fired - for accessing private or sensitive data without permission.

In response to a question in the House of Commons, Treasury Financial Secretary Jane Kennedy told MPs that nearly 600 employees of HMRC have been either disciplined or dismissed for inappropriate access to personal or otherwise sensitive data.

Last year, 192 were caught looking at such data, while 180 were caught in 2006. Another 238 were punished between April 2005 and December 2005. Kennedy noted that such numbers represent less than one per cent of HMRC staff.

This follows a massive data breach at the HMRC last year, where a pair of discs containing millions of records were lost in the post.

"HMRC has a strict policy forbidding staff to access customer records, unless they have a legitimate business need," Kennedy wrote in her statement. "Breaches of this policy are taken seriously and any breach will result in the commencement of disciplinary proceedings. Each case is treated on its merits but in many cases the disciplinary penalty for breach is dismissal."

She noted that no HM Treasury staff have been disciplined or dismissed for such actions over the same time period.