Failure to correctly update the details of a victim of family violence leads to a privacy breach (May 2017)

Billing mistakes
Case Number 2017/8252
Outcome Conciliation

The Issue

After Ms L had left a violent relationship, she contacted her electricity company to update her details, and to ensure her former partner was removed from the electricity account. Ms L told us that she had been making payments of $40 per fortnight towards a $1,700 outstanding balance on the account. When she hadn’t received a bill for some time, she recontacted the company and found that her former partner’s email address was still listed on the account, and her new details – including her address – had been revealed to him in the emailed bill.

Ms L contacted EWOV for assistance, seeking compensation for the privacy breach and for the company to review its processes when dealing with similar matters in the future. 

The Investigation

Given the seriousness of the privacy breach, EWOV immediately raised the complaint to an Investigation. Before going any further we contacted Ms L to ensure she was in a safe place, and did not require alternative accommodation. She confirmed she was safe.

We raised Ms L’s complaint with the company and requested an urgent response given the nature of the issue. The company said it would review the calls between it and Ms L and consider her request for resolution.

In the meantime, we reviewed the Privacy Act 1988 and the Australian Privacy Principles (APP) and concluded that the disclosure of Ms L’s personal information to her ex-partner was in breach of the Act and APP number 6, relating to personal information.

The Outcome

The company sincerely apologised for the inconvenience the privacy breach had caused Ms L. It confirmed that Ms L had contacted it to update the account details, but due to an internal error, the information was not recorded correctly. In recognition of this poor customer service it offered to waive the amount owing on the account in full. It also confirmed that all email addresses had been removed from the account.

Ms L was satisfied with this response and the case was closed.

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