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50-year-old Sharon Cooper Collins – who lives alone in her council property and now fears for her safety

A disabled grandmother has expressed her outrage at Watford Housing Community Trust as she was one of 3,000 tenants to suffer a serious breach of her data. Her details were not only leaked to fellow tenants but members of the public too.

Sharon WHCT
Sharon Cooper Collins, one of 3500 to have personal details leaked

The tenants’ details were leaked on the same day that the UK was placed into lockdown at the beginning of the Coronavirus pandemic – an already incredibly worrying and uncertain time for all.

Sharon Cooper Collins, 50, was faced with further distress on the same day when a close friend – who is not a Watford Community Housing tenant – informed her that her date of birth, telephone number, full home address, disability status and housing number had all been exposed.

Considering herself as a relatively youthful person, Sharon doesn’t disclose her disability status to anyone other than her closest friends and family. She suffers from a spinal cord condition which causes weakness to her left side and relies on a walking stick to get around.

The Trust had set about circulating a Covid19 update to its tenants but due to ‘human error’, Watford Housing Community Trust’s mailing list was sent to the mailing list itself.

The mother-of-three lives alone in her council property and prior to lockdown, had been waiting for her front door to be fixed. Due to her disability, she’s often unable to force the door to latch properly and despite the confidentiality breach and her full home address being revealed, she’s still awaiting for her door to be tended to.

She is one of many being represented by Liverpool-based firm Angelus Law.

Sharon, who is being represented by Liverpool-based firm Angelus Law, says: “I was so shocked to hear that my details, along with many others, had been shared with thousands of people. My most personal details have been violated. I suffer with anxiety and this has made the condition so much worse.

“I feel so vulnerable – I live alone and with my front door being broken and my details being known by thousands of people – I’m worried for my safety. Anyone who received this data will now know that I’m a middle-aged disabled woman living alone.”

Having her disability revealed has been humiliating for the grandmother-of-two.

She added: “Before this, I’d only discussed my condition with my closest family and friends and I’m upset and angry that my disability has been shared with thousands of strangers. I’m very

concerned with how much data has been leaked – someone could potentially steal my identity.”

Oonagh Burns, Director of Angelus Law, commented: “The Watford Housing Association data breach is an example of how a careless mistake by a data controller/data processor can have devastating effects on individuals, therefore organisations that are controlling and processing individuals’ personal details need to have robust processes in place to ensure events like this do not take place.

“In the Watford Housing Association breach, very sensitive information was leaked, to include individual’s contact details, national insurance number, date of birth, sexual orientation, religion and disabilities. This exposed the individuals to many risks, which include identity fraud, discrimination and in some cases a very serious risk that they would be located by persons whom should not know their whereabouts for safety reasons. Breach of privacy and data breach cases cause immense stress on people, the effects of which can last for a substantial amount of time depending on the type of information which has been disclosed. We obtain compensation for our clients for the distress caused as a result of the breach and seek declarations from the offending party that such a breach will not occur again.”

Once the tenants were notified of the breach, many tried to contact Watford Housing Community Trust, however due to the lockdown measures, it was almost impossible to speak to anyone from the trust to discuss the matter.

During the pandemic, Sharon has been forced to shield due to her health condition and is once again having to stay indoors at the home address that has been revealed during the nation’s third lockdown.

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