Confidential medical data from sick and disabled people claiming welfare benefits is opened and screened by Royal Mail staff on behalf of the Government without the claimant’s knowledge or consent.
Breaches of confidentiality have emerged that the Department of Work and Pensions routinely uses the Royal Mail to process thousands of benefit claims, including health information it receives daily.
The disclosures have cued bracing fears about the fact that the handling of sensitive personal data is being lawfully outsourced without the claimant’s consent.
People claiming sickness benefits such as employment and support allowance must start by completing an elaborate medical questionnaire explaining their conditions, prescribed medications and therapies, and the names and addresses of their doctors and nurses.
It asks some extremely sensitive questions about addictions and mental illness, and is then mailed in a pre-addressed envelope to the DWP or Atos health care.
Yet, it has emerged that these envelopes are routinely opened, and the contents screened by Royal Mail, unless the envelope is specifically checked off as private and confidential. In those cases, the envelopes are posted straight onto Atos unopened, according to the DWP.
It all became clear when a local post office was told not to bother posting ESA forms by special delivery as the envelopes would be opened by Royal Mail irrespectively. Nowhere in any claimants paperwork does it state that a third party is involved, and Royal Mail is posting extremely personal data, and people have a right to know this is happening simply because they’re being misled.
Claimants often have incredibly complex case histories. They may have mental health problems or be victims of sexual abuse, which they find incredibly unsettling to now know that such deeply personal information is being shared with Royal Mail.
While there are no grounds to question the sheer integrity of the Royal Mail, they simply should not have entree to this sort of information, particularly in the run up to the Christmas holidays when Royal Mail frequently takes on students that are now rummaging through our post, and that’s where the claimants information leaks out, and there is nothing stopping them from opening our post, and passing that data onto other people.
The DWP has said that security measures had been put in place to minimize the danger of any data breaches, including CCTV in sorting rooms and procedures that mean that at least two people open the post together, however, that doesn’t mean that the people working there will not pass any information by word of mouth, or to even to make fun of those claimants that have extremely sensitive issues.
The keynote here is that claimants should have their information kept private, and that staff that are dealing with such sensitive information should be made to sign a confidentiality clause because of the impact it could have on claimants if their information was to be passed on to somebody that it shouldn’t be.
And there should be fears that the government department could even contemplate allowing such sensitive and confidential medical information to be handled by a third party without the claimants agreeing to it, and there appears to be too many agencies dealing with claimants personal data which needs to be protected.
A person’s information should be safely guarded to subdue any breaches of security, and it doesn’t matter how reputable an agency is, there is still that probability that there could be breaches of security. Although, that is not proposing that Royal Mail staff are bribable or unreliable, however, it would still be unintelligent to think that nothing or nobody is infallible.
It’s not like there haven’t been breaches in security before, and to a degree that is somewhat disturbing, although one cannot say it would materialize, however, on the other hand, we can’t go around with the pretense that it wouldn’t, and Royal Mail going through our mail can only be a hindrance where claimants are concerned.