Highly-sensitive documents containing information about the financial affairs of up to 2,000 people have been lost by civil servants in Birmingham, The Birmingham Post can reveal.
Officials at HM Revenue and Customs offices in City Centre House, Union Street, spent five weeks searching but have failed so far to find any trace of a package containing records of tax deducted from wage packets which was delivered from Leicester by courier firm TNT.
The PAYE statements, including National Insurance numbers, names and addresses, but not bank account details, were dropped off in the basement at City Centre House, but then disappeared.
A copy of a confidential email from HMRC senior regional manager Richard Clements, explaining how all staff in the offices were ordered to look for the missing papers, has been obtained by The Birmingham Post.
Describing the importance of his instructions as “high”, Mr Clements says: “On July 3 a parcel of approximately 2,000 items of correspondence was signed for by a post room member in the sub-basement.
“The parcel had been sent ‘track-and-trace’ via TNT from Leicester, an envelope box had been used to transport the correspondence and would clearly show the track and trace label with the post code B2 4AR.
“Regrettably, the correspondence did not reach its destination in City Centre House.
“Each of the 2,000 items, A5-sized sheets of paper, contains personal data relating to individual members of the public. Given recent events I am sure you will appreciate it is vital that we take all reasonable measures to try to find the item.”
The email goes on: “Would you please arrange with your teams for your work areas to be thoroughly searched. I have asked the Floor Officers on each floor to co-ordinate the searches and report the results back to me. Please work together with them to achieve this.”
The effectiveness of the search may have been hampered at first because Mr Clements appears not to have been able to communicate with all colleagues.
He confessed: “I know the distribution lists I have used for this email are out of date and that there will be some staff who work here, and their managers, who will not have received this email. Please would you therefore check with those who sit near you that they have seen this email and if necessary forward it to them.
“I shall be sending out another email to all staff asking for their assistance in the search and asking managers to arrange for their teams to do the necessary work.”
An HMRC spokeswoman in London said the search would continue in the belief that the missing papers were somewhere in City Centre House.
She added: “We take the security of confidential information extremely seriously.
“The documents are within a secure HMRC building which is being searched at this time. These searches will continue until they are identified.”
The spokeswoman added that HMRC did not wish to downplay the serious nature of what had happened.
HMRC was also at the centre of the county’s biggest loss of data last October when two computer discs containing the UK’s entire child benefit records, including the personal details of 25 million people, disappeared from offices in the North-east.
A junior official sent the discs via TNT, but they failed to arrive at the National Audit Office in London.
The incident was highly embarrassing to the Government and led to the resignation of HMRC chairman Paul Gray.
Later in the same month, HMRC confirmed it was looking for another lost package containing six discs which went missing in the post after being sent from a tax credit office in Preston to its Whitehall HQ in London.