Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Housing Association Credit Database

I live in a private house and rent my home privately, but a friend of mine lives in a property owned by a housing association called Friendship Care and Housing, see: https://www.fch.org.uk/home. He has just received a circular announcing that they have begun a partnership with a company called Experian, see: http://www.experian.co.uk/. This is a “global information services” operation based in the UK, in other words it gathers information on people, businesses and property etc, and creates databases which can be used for commercial purposes. This includes lifestyle data based on internet use; “Big Spammer” in other words, see: http://hpanwo-voice.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/big-spammer-is-watching-you.html. What Friendship want to do is help their customers, according to the letter, “build a good credit history and improve their financial situation. Many social housing residents are excluded from affordable credit and other services due to a lack of a credit history”. How they want to go about this is divulge their residents’ rent payment records to Experian in order to create a credit rating for them, allowing them access to loans, financial services and payment plans they wouldn’t be eligible for otherwise; it will also provide an online proof of identity. In the same way mortgage payers can use their repayment history as the basis for their credit score. Friendship are calling this the Rental Exchange and have many reassuring platitudes in the letter about how they have developed the plan with advice from regulators and consumer groups. The project complies with the Data Protection Act and all other UK and EU laws. There is a third partner in the Rental Exchange- Big Issue Invest, part of the Big Issue Group which publishes The Big Issue, the famous magazine sold on the street by homeless people. This gives the Rental Exchange an ethical facade. This might all sound very soft and cuddly, but we’re talking here about people having their personal data shared involuntarily to a company that specializes in secretly monitoring people, sometimes without their knowledge or consent. This is very similar to organizations like GCHQ and MI5, although Experian motives are different, they’re commercial and financial instead of political. Nevertheless when it comes to Big Brother we have to deal with capabilities rather than professed intents; a database is a database and it can be adapted for any purpose the database owners want whenever the situation demands it. This kind of human registry is becoming more and more common and it increasingly dictates our function in society. In fact as I was writing this article my friend contacted me to tell me he’d just phoned his gas supplier asking to change his tariff to something cheaper and they informed him that they’d need to do a credit profile on him before they agreed. A gas bill, they state, is technically a form of credit because bills are always sent for payment in arrears; this is splitting hairs beyond belief in my view. It could be that Friendship home residents in fact do need to be registered with Experian because the surveillance state agenda is slowly and steadily corralling people into a society where it is accepted practice; this is my main reason for opposing school fingerprinting, see: http://hpanwo.blogspot.co.uk/2007/11/this-is-drawing-done-by-my-12-year-old.html. The letter describes Experian as a “a highly respected and trusted custodian of personal data”; actually there was a scandal in October 2013 in which a subsidiary of theirs sold the personal data of hundreds of thousands of Americans to an individual in Vietnam who was part of a massive worldwide identity fraud gang. Friendship Care and Housing customers are not literally obliged to join the Rental Exchange, however the choice is an opt-out, not an opt-in. A non-response will be considered tacit granting of permission. The letter states: “We will shortly be sharing your tenancy information with Experian, including your rent and service charge payment history” (my emphasis). The housing association provides a postal address, no email, for residents to write to in which they must include their tenancy reference and signature. They have twenty-eight days in which to do so from the… wait a minute! The letter sent from Friendship is not dated. This is starting to sound very manipulative and underhand, exactly like my daughter’s school was over the use of fingerprinting. What’s to prevent them claiming that all the opt-out letters were sent in after the twenty-eight day option period expired? My friend called the Rental Exchange “helpline” and they told him that the time of his phone call would be registered as the start of this period; they did not answer his question about why there was no date on the letter. This means if you don’t call the helpline then there is no way you can prove that you opted out of the project in time. It is quite likely that many Friendship customers will end up as part of the Rental Exchange unwittingly, either because they were away at the time, for example on holiday or in hospital, or through simple apathy and inattention. My friend is going to send his opt-out letter tomorrow, via registered mail just in case it gets “lost in the post”. If any HPANWO-readers have been involved in similar situations, could they please let me know?

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