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The Information Commissioner is concerned that companies with official sounding names may be persuading small firms to part with fees for unnecessary services by leading them to believe that they must register with them under the Act.

The British Antique Dealers’ Association, whose members have been approached, have also issued a warning.

One of the companies named by the Commissioner, the official sounding Data Collection Enforcement Agency, have sent several dealers correspondence asking them to submit their business for registration at a cost of £95 plus VAT (£111.63).

All the agency appear to be offering is to complete the simple act of registering with the government for firms. The official cost of registering with the government is only £35. Of more concern is that at least some of those contacted appear to have no obligation to register under the Act anyway, although the agency’s mailshot would have them believe otherwise, stating: “You are not held on our records as having registered under the Data Protection Act 1998, to comply with the Data Protection Register.”

When the Antiques Trade Gazette telephoned the Stockport-based agency on a premium-rate telephone line to point out the difference in price, managing director Diane Phillips said that the agency would, at least, register every client with the official government body – the Data Protection Information Commission, based in Wilmslow, although there is no mention of this on the agency’s registration form.

A government spokesman has confirmed that some forms have been submitted by the agency, though they have no evidence that they have all been sent. “They are using language that makes them look as though they are the official body,” said the spokesman. “This is the cause of considerable concern to the Commissioner and we are monitoring their activity and exploring what action may be taken by either ourselves or other relevant authorities.”

The BADA are advising dealers to consult professional advisers, such as a trade body or the Data Protection Commission helpline on their business needs and should register with the official Commission if they believe they have an obligation to do so.

Anyone who has signed up for the service with any of the agencies and is not satisfied with the service provided should contact their local trading standards office.

Warnings about five such companies, including the Data Collection Enforcement Agency have been posted on the Commissioner’s Website www.dataprotection.gov.uk. The Website also provides details of whether or not you are required to register with the government under the 1998 Data Protection Act. For instance, the storage of CCTV images and credit reference data are grounds for registration, but not if computer or manual data is used for personal information, staff admin, advertising, PR and accounts. Alternatively, telephone the Commission helpline on 01625 545740 and contact the BADA, who have issued a business briefing on the Data Protection Act.