By Maximilian Clarke

An estate agent yesterday (Thursday) has become the latest to fall victim to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) after failing to inform them that his business processes personal data.

John Merfyn Pugh of Merfyn Pugh Estate Agents was prosecuted and fined £5,000 for an offence under section 17 of the Data Protection Act. The hearing took place at Caernarfon Magistrates Court.

The Data Protection Act 1998 requires every organisation or person who is processing personal information in an automated form to notify, unless they are exempt. Failure to notify is a criminal offence and could lead to a fine of up to £5,000 in a Magistrates Court, or unlimited fines in a Crown Court.

Mr Pugh was given a conditional discharge of six months and was ordered to pay £614 towards prosecution costs. The Chair of the bench told Mr Pugh on administering the sentence that they were sorry to see him in court and that had he dealt with it earlier it would have only cost him £35. The court took into account the fact that Mr Pugh had complied with the law by the time the court heard his case.

“Registering as a data controller is a basic legal requirement of the Data Protection Act,” commented the ICO’s Assistant Commissioner for Wales, Anne Jones. “The fee for most businesses is £35 a year. Merfyn Pugh Estate Agents’ failure to register — even after being prompted to do so by the ICO — has cost them much more today. The message behind today’s prosecution is clear — ignore warnings and you too could end up in court.”

All organisations that handle personal data but have not yet registered as a data controller should proactively contact the ICO to ensure they are complying with the law. Some organisations will be exempt. More information is available on our Notification page.

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