Sector warned to beware of bogus agencies

Accountants have been warned against using bogus agencies to register under
the Data Protection Act by the Information Commissioner’s Office.

The warning follows Accountancy Age’s revelation that the ICO is
targeting more than 10,000 accountants for failing to register as ‘data
controllers’ because they hold key client information on their databases.

The registration, which costs £35, is required under the Data Protection Act.
But the ICO has warned that accounting practices could be next on the hit list
of these agencies, which can request sums of up to £135 to register, often using
threatening language and posted on ‘official-looking’ headed notepaper.

Nurseries and playgroups were hit by a range of bogus letters in March.
assistant information commissioner Phil Jones said that the ‘golden rule’ for
businesses to follow was that any letter received demanding more than £35 to
register under the DPA was ‘a scam’.

An ICO spokeswoman said that no accountants have been targeted directly ‘yet’
by bogus agencies, but due to ongoing investigations the office was unable to
provide any more details at this time.

Felicity Banks, head of business law at the ICAEW, said that accountants do
not require ‘additional help’ to register with the Act, beyond the information
they can gather from their institute, or through the office’s helpline.
‘Registration direct with
the information commissioner is not difficult. They have a friendly helpline,’
she said.
Banks also confirmed that the institute had entered into dialogue with the ICO
in a bid to make sure that any ICAEW members who should have registered through
the Data Protection Act, make plans to do so.

The commissioner’s office has previously targeted the law profession for its
low rate of registrations under the Data Protection Act, which led to several
solicitors being prosecuted and fined for their failure to notify.

The ICO’s efforts led to a rapid increase in solicitors’ registration ­ from
a 25% take-up to the current figure of 70%.

Philip Taylor, a solicitor at the ICO, said that accountants were next on its
list, due to a ‘particularly low’ percentage of compliance.

‘Our research shows that only 45% to 50% have notified us,’ said Taylor.

In March, Ralph Harold Donner, of solicitors Feld, Mackay and Donner, was
fined £3,150 and ordered to pay £3,500 towards prosecution costs for failure to
notify the information commissioner. Donner was contacted five times over a
two-year period by the department.

Related reading