The Alzheimer’s Society faces potential prosecution for failing to protect sensitive personal data if it fails to comply with a new enforcement notice from the Information Commissioner’s Office.

The ICO has found serious failings in the way volunteers at the national dementia support charity handle sensitive personal data.

It has ordered the society to take action after discovering that volunteers were using personal email addresses to receive and share information about people who use the charity, storing unencrypted data on their home computers and failing to keep paper records locked away.

Also, that volunteers were not trained in data protection, the charity’s policies and procedures were not explained to them and they had little supervision from staff.

Head of enforcement at the ICO Stephen Eckersley said: “In failing to ensure volunteers were properly supported, this charity showed a disappointing attitude towards looking after the very sensitive information that people trusted them with."

Shortcomings at the society were identified in November 2014 and, despite some improvements being made, the ICO has now issued an enforcement notice because it is concerned that more needs to be done.

As well as issues around the security of personal data, the charity’s website was hacked earlier in 2015, putting at risk around 300,000 email addresses, 66,000 home addresses, phone numbers and some birth dates.

The ICO made a series of recommendations in the wake of the attack and the society implemented most of them, but the charity did not undertake manual checks of its website, a practice the ICO believed to be crucial in detecting vulnerability. The enforcement notice now requires them to do that.

The ICO has made other recommendations that the charity has failed to implement fully. In 2010 it agreed to a series of security measures after several unencrypted laptops were stolen during an office burglary. And it has been the subject of two audits – in March 2013 and March 2014 – which made recommendations about data security. If the charity does not comply with the enforcement notice it could face prosecution.