Friday, 18 September 2015

Reforms to the law on data sharing

"The Cabinet Office is developing policy and considering certain targeted reforms to the law on data sharing, which will be published in due course."

See `Data Sharing between Public Bodies: A Scoping Report.`

It is a long document, but chapter 10 is particularly interesting.

It deals with the `Troubled Families` programme led by the Department for Communities and Local Government. (DCLG)

The programme is used as a case study to illustrate the problems that can arise in projects that rely heavily on data sharing.

"The first phase of the programme sought to identify target families using cumulative criteria." (Note these criteria shifted over time but that is not mentioned in the report.)

"The data necessary for this exercise are held across a multiplicity of different local and central pubic sector agencies. A corresponding multiplicity of different data sharing agreements were required with different parts of government...The process was complex, produced patchy results and incurred high transaction costs. Some data sharing was not possible, such as identifying families with priority health problems, as no legal gateway could be found or devised."

Crime/anti-social behaviour

"In early 2013, the applicability of section 115 to this aspect of the Troubled Families Project was endorsed by the Home Office, the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Information Commissioner`s Office in a guidance note to the police service..."

School exclusion

"School exclusion and truancy relied on section 17 of the Children Act 1989 as an implied legal gateway. Section 17 creates a general duty of every local authority to promote the welfare of children in need within their area and the upbringing of such children by their families. For this purpose children are in need if, among other things, their intellectual, social or behavioural development is likely to be impaired if the services are not provided. The section does not create any express information-gathering power."

Out-of-work benefits

"For the purpose of this criterion it was necessary for Regulations to be made under the Welfare Reform Act 2012 to empower the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and Jobcentre Plus to supply benefits information to local authorities. .Further amendments were required in 2013 to enable the local authorities in turn to share information provided by DWP with the third parties that were supporting the delivery of the programme..."

Housing benefit dependency

"This was regarded as relevant to identifying benefit dependent families...Problems over local authorities` powers to share data with others involved in the project meant that a complex and expensive system of centralised data sharing through DWP had to be created at a cost of £400,000 to DWP..."

Domestic violence, substance and alcohol abuse and mental health

"There was no gateway empowering local GPs or drug and alcohol support providers to share the required data. The lack of one necessitated a complex and expensive process of seeking families` consent to access this information before a decision could be taken to offer support under the programme...described as disproportionately bureaucratic."

"DCLG proposed a `cross-cutting permissive gateway` in order to enable families to be identified against the range of criteria envisaged for the expanded phase of the programme..."

"They suggested that a proportionate approach would be to ensure that the data to identify troubled families were processed by a third party in a depersonalised and indexed form and only re-personalised when an individual or family was found to meet the criteria for assistance under the programme."

Next phase of the Trouble Families programme

Find 400,000 families who meet four of the criteria.

That will mean trawling through many more thousands of children`s and families` personal and/or sensitive data in order to track them down.

The Cabinet Office intends to reform the law to make this easier.

Only the privileged are going to be entitled to a private life.

Tectonic shift, or fantasy ?

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