The information watchdog has launched an investigation into a drive to track down people who are in the country illegally, which was contracted out by the UK Border Agency to private company Capita.
Under the contract – worth £30m over four years, with a large element of payment by results – Capita contacts individuals by phone, text message, email or letter to warn them that UKBA records suggest they need to leave the country.
Lawyers say some of those contacted are British citizens or have the right to live in the UK. In other cases, the people left the UK several years ago.
The Information Commissioner’s Office yesterday said that it had launched an initial inquiry into complaints that UKBA is holding inaccurate and outdated data, in breach of the Data Protection Act.
BBC Radio 4’s Today programme reported that the people being pursued are on a list of 174,000 of whom the authorities have lost track – mostly overseas workers and students whose visas are believed to have expired.
The programme reported claims that the number of people wrongly contacted could run into hundreds, some of whom were receiving several calls or messages a day.
A UKBA spokesman said: “Out of thousands of people contacted by Capita, a small number have been found to have the right to be in the UK or an outstanding application. Anyone contacted in error has been asked to get in touch with Capita to update their records. We are mindful of the importance of data protection.”