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The big data dilemma: how housing associations are tackling new data protection challenges – Inside Housing

He is also aware that tenants are often being advised to put in a request by their solicitor during disputes. “I’ve seen more and more requests from solicitor firms in support of their client,” says Mr Sandersfield. “And they want everything. I guess they are looking for a chink in the armour.”

He adds: “It’s almost a little victory for the common man against the corporate, which is frustrating, but they are entitled to it.”

G15 housing association Network Homes has been forced to grapple with similar issues over access requests. “There are some tenants that will make an access request every three months,” says Tabitha Kassem, director of governance, legal and compliance at Network. Last year Network even recruited a new member of staff whose sole responsibility is dealing with the requests.

But there can be a positive outcome from complaints, she suggests. “Generally, we find that people are aggrieved for a good reason and often we might become alert to a wider issue within the business,” she says.

“GDPR is not just for Christmas, it’s for life”
Eeshma Qazi, solicitor, Anthony Collins

Network has mailed out hard copies of its privacy policy to all 22,000 of its residents. Due to access requests, Network has also reminded staff to be careful what to include in emails. As part of a request, an association can be forced to hand over any email that refers to a tenant.

Ms Qazi says she has also noticed a jump in access requests and advises landlords to get rid of any historical data that is no longer required.

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With this increased focus on data protection, moves are being stepped up to tackle the issue. Ms Kassem says she is in the early stages of working with others to draw up a housing code of conduct for data protection and will be meeting with the National Housing Federation (NHF). She hopes the ICO will sign off the code.

Paul Bayly, head of governance and compliance at the NHF, confirms to Inside Housing that it has held “initial conversations” with its members to see if a data protection code of conduct would be “helpful”. He adds: “If it is, then we can start working with housing associations and the ICO to develop one.”

Elsewhere, Gentoo’s Mr Sandersfield has launched a working group among North East associations.

Despite being an EU-based piece of legislation, GDPR looks set to stay. The UK will, according to Ms Qazi, implement a similar version of GDPR called UKGDPR, even if we eventually leave the EU.

In the meantime, for those at housing associations involved in data protection, being on constant alert is vital. “It’s a daily issue for me,” admits Mr Sandersfield. But he says it helps that GDPR has meant there is more awareness of data protection.

As Ms Qazi concludes: “It’s not a tick-box exercise, it’s about embedding behaviours. GDPR is not just for Christmas, it’s for life.”


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