The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) came into force in May 2018; it’s arrival harmonised data privacy laws across Europe as well as boosting rights for individuals, giving them greater control over their information and how it is handled by organisations. It has also given citizens a stronger sense of ownership over their personal data.
Various scandals, such as Cambridge Analytica, played out in the public domain have shown the realities of data misuse. Consumers now expect any organisation they interact with to handle their information responsibly, to only store what is necessary and be transparent with what they are holding.
Data sits at the heart of everything housing providers do. To continue delivering first-rate support and services to communities up and down the country, access to information is vital.
Holding personal information
Housing providers are required to hold and share a huge amount of personal identifiable information (PII) relating to tenants including name and date of birth information, home address, dependents, ethnic origin, health conditions and gender, and often on behalf of vulnerable people.
High-profile incidents relating to misplaced or lost information mean consumers are more in tune then ever when it comes to understanding what information is held on them and how that information relates to their personal circumstances.
In housing, this might relate to a tenant wanting transparency over the safety of their property, such as gas and fire safety certificates. It could also extend to information about refurbishments carried out on the property or wanting access to their tenancy agreement. Additionally, if a tenant feels that certain information held on them might inhibit their personal circumstances, they can ask for it to be removed, under GDPR, if they feel that information is no longer required.
Housing providers are responsible for vast amounts of information. Data is often spread across multiple physical filing systems and digital networks and information repositories. These disparate data sources can make it very difficult for housing providers’ staff to collate information, while lost information or data which hasn’t been disposed of correctly can put housing providers at risk of hefty fines. In 2018, a housing provider launched an internal investigation after accidentally emailing 300 staff a spreadsheet understood to contain details of employees’ sexuality, ethnicity and disability status, prompting an investigation into the incident by the ICO.
With so much at stake and so much information to manage, how can housing providers successfully take on the task of remaining compliant with GDPR and also meeting the needs of their tenants? Well, it comes down to using an intelligent approach to information management.
A 360-degree view
The use of intelligent information management (IIM) systems, layered on top of existing data storage systems, gives housing staff a complete 360-degree view of all information stored across their networks, files and repositories. This makes identifying and managing PII significantly easier.
Metadata tagging enables staff to search for information according to what it is rather than where it’s stored. Staff are finding and managing information more easily and faster, allowing them to give more back to tenant care. It also provides tenants with complete transparency over the data which matters most to them. This heightened transparency can also be used to enhance other areas associated with information handling.
As mentioned above, tenants want greater visibility relating to the safety of their property, such as ensuring that gas safety and electrical certificates are up to date. An information management system allows workflows to be set for safety checks, meaning alerts can be created 30, 60 or 90 days before a certificate is due to expire. This gives staff a much more holistic view over renewal dates, reducing the risk of financial penalties and also provides piece of mind for tenants knowing that the property they live in is safe and regulatory compliant.
Finally, having a considered approach to information handling also ensures that housing providers remain compliant with GDPR. By having complete transparency over the information they hold on tenants, housing providers can ensure they’re not holding data that should not be in their possession. Doing so aids organisations when it comes to auditing processes, demonstrating that they’re not in breach of regulations. Most importantly it gives citizens clarity when it comes to understanding how their data is being held and managed.
Simon Godfrey is a senior executive for housing at M-Files.