back to article Builder blacklist boss hit with £5,000 fine

Ian Kerr, the man behind the Consulting Association, which held and maintained a blacklist of builders, has been fined £5,000 by Knutsford Crown Court. The company was raided by the Information Commissioner's Office in March when the watchdog made its first ever use of an Enforcement Notice to shut it down. The Consulting …


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  1. Samo

    Only £5K?

    Explain to me how that's a deterrent when he raked in £478,937, ruining people's jobs chances in such a way that is illegal (last I checked, it's illegal to give a negative reference?).

  2. Stephane Mabille


    So the maximum penalty you might get is about 1% of the money you made... sounds like any drug dealer would have to pay 30p per gram of cocaine he sold....

    Sounds like the perfect deterrent to me.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Masonic hand shakes all round

    So the magistrate passed the case to the high court because he was unable to give a higher penalty and he was still fined only 5000 GBP (plus 1187 costs). That's hardly a deterrent for doing it again or for someone else doing the same. As he was charging 3000pa plus a nominal per name charge he only needed two subscribers to have enought left over to pay his lodge fees. Anything on top would be pure profit.

  4. dunncha
    Big Brother

    Abuse of data - Database abuse

    Of course with the National ID Register this would never happen. There are too many safeguards put in.

    What nobody says and I have been watching this story for a while is how did it all get uncovered?

    A disgruntled employee maybe

    icon? big Brother of course

  5. Ian Ferguson

    Great business plan

    £478,937 profit vs. £5000 costs... I'm no financial genius, but that seems quite a successful venture to me.

  6. Lee Dowling Silver badge


    Why on Earth would it ever be illegal to give a negative reference? Don't spout incorrect, over-sensitive, "mustn't do wrong", "politically correct" lies. It may well be illegal to give a FALSE reference, or a misleading one, or a malicious one, but even that's unlikely unless some sort of fraud is involved.

    If someone does a sh** job, doesn't turn up, blows up the factory, you HAVE to give them a non-negative reference? Sorry, that's just so incorrect it's unbelievable. I think you've been in too many committee meetings that didn't want to rock the boat by using their brains.

    *Married to someone who works in law.

  7. Graham Marsden


    1) Get paid £478,937

    2) Get fined £5000

    3) PROFIT!

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Pretty sure a negative reference is perfectly legal, as long as it is true. Many employers refuse to give negative references as they are concerned about the possibility of legal actions for defamation however as an interest you can also be sued by the reference requester of you knowingly give a positive reference.

    Say you had a job, and you were caught stealing, disciplined and sacked. Your next prospective employer asks for a reference and your previous company says, amongst other things, that you were sacked for stealing. You think this is illegal for them to do so?

    From a US based legal site:

    "In any case, an employer has the legal right to provide whatever information is true or reflects their honest opinion. Bad references are not, in themselves, illegal. Before you could take legal action, you would have to prove (and the burden of proof would be on you) that the reference was not only bad, but false, and that as a direct result you suffered damages (in other words, that but for the reference in question, you would unquestionably have been offered the job)."

    From a UK based legal site:

    "It has been established in law in recent years that employers owe a duty of care in the preparation of a reference primarily to subject of the reference but also to the recipient of the reference and even in some cases to the public."

    It goes on to say:"Where there is a criminal conviction or a disciplinary offence on the subject’s record, the referee has a duty of care to advise other institutions or employers of this information."

    Which, from my reading all can be summarised as:

    -You can give a negative reference as long as it is true, fair and not maliciously done.

    -You have an obligation to give a negative reference where it would be detrimental to the requester if you do not.

    -A false negative reference is a civil matter not a criminal one, so at best it could be termed unlawful but never illegal.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Is there a blacklist for IT workers?

    Seems reasonable.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Just to clarify...

    So, this man was NOT convicted for breach of privacy, illegal datamining etc., but got an 'administrative fine' because he was not REGISTERED as a datacollector ?

    As far as I can gather he will have to register himself correctly, pay the fine and go merrily about his business. That about the size of it ?

  11. David Sinclair

    Re: Only £5K?

    It's only £5K because that's all that can be levied according to the DPA. This is why the Information Commissioner is lobbying for a change in the law to give him more power and higher fines and possible custodial sentences. That said, if anyone on the list can prove they suffered as a result, they can sue Mr Kerr and the financial penalty is, as far as I know, is unlimited.

    Go builders

  12. Martin 6 Silver badge

    @ust to clarify...

    Well there is also the costs of all the new hardware to handle all the new customers in other industries that all the publicity is going to bring in .

  13. Justin Clements

    only mistake he made

    was running the business in the UK. Considering its an all profit operation, I'd have been running this from a beach in the Caribbean, a hosting site in Russia, and a company in Panama.

  14. Anonymous Coward


    You cant give a bad reference.

    You can only list their good things. Or just say "We have nothing good to say about this person." You cant list stuff like "Lazy, Boneidle etc"


    I calculated for the 3k+ people on the DB

    Each person was worth £1.56 from this find.

    But he was being paid £3,000 a year plus £2.20 per search.


  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    But, in the UK it is not legal to maintain a database of containing information about private individuals, without allowing them to opt out and have their data removed. It's pretty obvious that they weren't regestered because they knew that they would never be able to keep any data, once the people concerned found out.

    On Radio4 news this afternoon they said that the CPS are now prosecuting 17 of the companies who obtained information from this database, let's hope that a more realistic penalty is imposed. Let's also hope that those who were denied job or fired from them get some compo.

  16. Anonymous Coward

    A Quick Game Of Spot The Difference.....Enhanced CRB check anyone?

    "Prices for the Enhanced CRB check - which controversially includes "soft intelligence" such as unsubstantiated and unproven allegations, and information which is not shown to the applicant - will remain at £36."

    But this one registered so is legal to give out 'information' which is true, "honest guv, saw it with my own eyes I did".

    Mines the one with "Hypocrisy For Beginners" in the pocket.

  17. Adam 52 Silver badge


    We still have criminal libel, at least until the Coroners and Justice Bill finally gets implemented.

  18. Robert Hill
    Big Brother

    Perfectly reasonable...

    If his only mistake was to not register as a data collector, then a small fine is quite reasonable.

    IF it could have been shown that his database contained unwarranted and unjust information, that he had no mechanism to redress data inaccuracies, etc., then he would have been guilty of a far larger misdeed. As he was not found guilty of these, then his business is much the same as Equifax and the other ratings agencies, and likely as legal as their is. I mean, if you can rate someone's credit historically, then why should it be illegal to rate their employment history? And if you think this guy make a killing, then you should look up the billions the credit ratings and other data collection business make - he is small potatoes, and probably actually does provide a service to employers wishing to build safe buildings with reliable workers.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Big Brother


    what's going to happen to ECRB checks when parliament make these kinds of blacklists illegal? Will unconfirmed allegations still be legal?

  20. Andy Barber


    Strawbs song, 'You can't get me I'm part of the union':

    Mine's the one with CWU on the back!

    BTW my boss is in the Connect Union!

  21. Mectron

    IF this is illegal

    Then all the credit bureau of the planet must close.

    I don't see nothing for a employer to want not to hire a KNOW troublew makers.

  22. Jonathan Richards 1

    @ Peter R.

    No, he can't rejuvenate the business even if he registers it with the ICO. The Data Protection Act enforces 8 principles for personal data, including that it shall be (1) Fairly and lawfully processed, (2) Obtained only for one or more specified and lawful purposes and not processed further in any way incompatible with the original purposes, and (6) Processed in accordance with the rights of Data Subjects.

    I don't think that an employment blacklist meets any of those criteria.

  23. Anonymous Coward

    Three thousand two hundred & thirteen

    "The Consulting Association (TCA) kept a list of over 3,213 workers "

    Shouldn't it be 3213 offences @ 5000 a shot?

    A 16 million quid fine might work as a deterrent.

  24. kain preacher

    @ Lee

    "From a US based legal site:"

    And lee thats were you went wrong. You have federal employment law, then you have employment laws for each of the 50 states., In my state employers can only verfiy dates of employment and say weather they would hire you back. Some states they can only verify sates of employment

  25. Anonymous Coward

    Supermarkets are doing this too

    I read an article somewhere about a new blacklist that was being setup only this year for supermarket workers.

  26. Reg Sim

    So let me get this into my head.....

    The companys that may get prossicuted can all say 'opps', it was all a miss understandings 'actions have been taken to prevent this happening again', they get a fine smaller than £5,000 and everybody is happy.

    Except for the people effected who may well of lost £30,000 each in earnings......

    ...not to mention the on going damage, as the companys may of kept a record of the results, and now have a small list of there own.

    I know I feel let down here. Ahh well at least our ID database will never get missused like that.......

    [This post reminds me to re-install the spelling add on to Firefox ]

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    > You cant give a bad reference.


    > You can only list their good things. Or just say "We have nothing good to say about this person." > You cant list stuff like "Lazy, Boneidle etc"

    Utter nonsense, you just made that up.

    In the UK, you can say anything you like in a reference. However, one of either parties may sue you in a civil court if have lied etc.

    And yes, I have given a reference that stated:

    "John was employed at [NHS Hospital] for 2 weeks, after which (as his line manager) I decided to terminate his employment due to his inability to spend time at work actually working & because the skills listed on his CV were either incorrect or he was determined not to demonstrate them in the course of his duties."

    That was over 6 months ago & we / I still haven't been sued yet.

  28. Anonymous Coward

    Fine May Be Small

    There are 120 people who have asked for their records. If Carter Ruck work on conditional fee business that's a lot of libel gravy still to come for false records and defamation/libel/slander. Should be open and shut with the Data Commisioners win. IANAL just my interpretation

  29. Dr Dunc

    Don't know why he bothered

    I'd just set up a single web page for searching on FaceBook, MySpace, Twitter, YouTube, etc. If the builders in question are under 25 they've probably posted more than enough self-incriminating evidence without the need to populate and maintain my own database.

    Problem solved and plenty of time for a pint at lunchtime.

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