THERE is no justification for estate agents asking for excessive personal information from people wishing to view homes, the Data Protection Commissioner (DPC) has said.
Opposition politicians had asked the Commissioner, Helen Dixon, to investigate after property agents Savills asked potential buyers to show “proof of funds” before they can view a house.
This included not only the mortgage approval but also evidence of all savings that may be used in the purchase, proof of the Help to Buy Grant and evidence of gifts from family members if they were being used.
Savills said it requested this information as more than 5,000 people were interested in a number of properties in Lucan, west Co Dublin, and, with Covid restrictions, one-on-one viewings only were allowed.
It said to “facilitate a fair and efficient sales purchasing process” it asked for proof that potential buyers could afford homes they wanted to view.
Other agents have reportedly engaged in similar practices.
The DPC has now published guidance on the collection of personal data prior to viewing a property.
The guidance says estate agents should collect no more personal information than is necessary.
It is understood there is now confusion in the industry as to how thousands of requests for viewings should be facilitated following the issuing of the advice.
The Commissioner states there cannot be justification for “extensive collection of personal data” even when complying with pandemic restrictions.
“The DPC does not consider there can be any justification for the extensive collection of personal data such as financial statements, proof of funds, utility bills, PPS numbers etc from prospective purchasers at the initial stages of advertising or hosting viewings of a property,” said Data Protection Commissioner Ms Dixon.
Such personal data cannot be collected on a “‘just in case’ basis for some undefined or undeclared future purpose”.
Personal data should only be collected for “specified, explicit and legitimate purposes and not further processed in a manner that is incompatible with those purposes”, she said.
The guidance also states the personal data needed to arrange a viewing is much less than is needed when a would-be buyer decides to buy a property.
“The personal data required for the purpose of arranging a viewing will be significantly less than the personal data which may be necessary where an individual decides to progress to a more advanced stage of purchasing a property, such as placing an offer on a property, going sale agreed or concluding a purchase,” it says.
When estate agents request personal data from viewers then they become “data controllers” under GDPR data protection laws.
This means they must engage in the principle of “data minimisation” and so collect no more information than is needed.
So-called data controllers must also be “transparent” with the individuals from whom the information is being collected.
As a result people should be told if personal information is used for any other reason other than the one initially specified.
“This means individuals must be informed if personal data collected for the express purpose of facilitating the viewing of a property is to be used for any other purpose,” the Commissioner said.
Such purposes here could include “an assessment of the individual’s financial standing, for analytical purposes or profiling of prospective buyers”.
Labour housing spokesperson Rebecca Moynihan said estate agents needed to clarify how they are using the information they have from potential buyers.
“I’m glad that the DPC has made it clear. I think they need to take action on it,” she said.
“Each of the estate agents need to make clear how they’re going to comply with data protection and immediately cease in terms of pulling out this type of information.”
In a statement Savills told the Irish Independent: “We welcome the updated guidance from the Data Protection Commission and look forward to working with them to confirm the robustness of our processes.”