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1.6 Access to Records

Contents

  1. Rights of Access 
  2. Exceptions 
  3. Offering an Informal Approach 
  4. Handling Formal Requests for Access 
  5. Timescales 
  6. Applications by Children 
  7. Applications by Parents 
  8. Applications by Agents 
  9. Application on Behalf of Deceased Persons 
  10. Correction or Erasure of Records 
  11. Refusal of Access
  12. Appeals Process


1. Rights of Access 

1.1 The provisions for access to personal information or records held by Children's Services are contained in the Data Protection Act 1998. Under this legislation, those in respect of whom personal information is held in any form have a right of access to the information, unless one of the exceptions set out below applies.


2. Exceptions

2.1

Exceptions to the right to access are:

  • Where the practice of social work would otherwise be prejudiced because access to the information would be likely to result in serious harm to the person requesting the information or some other person;
  • Where the person is incapable of managing his or her affairs (for example where the person is a child) and the information was given in the expectation that it would not be disclosed or is information which the subject of the information expressly indicated must not be disclosed;
  • Adoption Case Records.
2.2

Also access can be refused if:

  • To disclose the information would involve disclosure of information about someone else without that person’s consent and disclosure cannot be justified without that person’s consent; or
  • Where disclosure may prevent the detection or investigation of a crime.
2.3 Access can also be refused if an identical or similar request has been received from the same person and already been complied with, unless a reasonable interval has elapsed.
2.4 These exceptions do not permit the total withholding of information but only those sections of the material covered by the exceptions. The remainder of the case records must be made available to the service user.
2.5 The exceptions do not apply where disclosure is required by a Court Order or is necessary for the purpose of or in connection with any legal proceedings. 
2.6 In addition, a Court may prevent disclosure of information where a person shows that he or she would be caused serious harm to his physical or mental health by the disclosure.


3. Offering an Informal Approach

3.1 If a person in receipt of services asks to see a particular document or wants to have information about a particular aspect of the case, the social worker must discuss this with them to see whether the request can be dealt with informally by showing them the relevant part of the file or providing copies of relevant documents. 


4. Handling Formal Requests for Access

4.1 Those making a formal request for access to their records must be asked to put the request in writing and the social worker may assist them to do this as necessary. The receipt of the written request must be recorded by the social worker/access to records officer, who must verify the identification of the person making the request. If he or she is not known to the social worker, the social worker must ask for photographic evidence, either through a passport or driving licence.
4.2 Prior to access being given, all case records held on the person must be located and collected. All indexes and computer records must be checked and all teams in Children and Families must be circulated. 
4.3 The access to records officer must carefully check the case records to ensure they are complete and maintained. The whole file must also be checked to ascertain whether any of the material comes within the exceptions to the rights of access (see Section 2, Exceptions).
4.4 There must be no disclosure of the identity of third parties or other sources of information, which fall within the second exception (see Section 2, Exceptions). 
4.5 Any other information supplied by third parties must not usually be disclosed without the third party's consent. When it is not possible to obtain consent, discretion may be used to release information where there is no possibility of serious harm.
4.6 An appointment must be made at the earliest opportunity to share the case record with the person making the request, and he or she must be asked to bring appropriate proof of identity.
4.7 The access to records officer must be available to explain the contents of the file, to answer questions and to help the person understand the information recorded.
4.8 Where the person making the request has specific needs in relation to language or disability, arrangements must be made to present the information in a suitable manner and to involve approved interpreters as needed.
4.9 Interpretative and supportive counselling may be advisable in certain cases using a number of interviews to disclose the information, if the person concerned is willing to proceed in this manner.
4.10 A request for copies of information disclosed must be met.


5. Timescales

5.1 Access must be given to information that can be disclosed within 40 days of receiving the request. This is the maximum time period allowed. The timescale can only be extended with the agreement of the person requesting access. Where he or she refuses to agree an extension, access must be given to all information open to disclosure at that point. 


6. Applications by Children

6.1 Requests from children must be treated in the same way as requests from adults. A judgement must be made by the social worker as to whether the child making the request for access understands the nature of the request. Where appropriate, a parent must be asked to provide written confirmation that the child understands the nature of the application.
6.2 Disabled Children have the same rights as others to have access to information held about them. No assumption must be made about their level of understanding. This must be assessed on an individual basis as with all children.
6.4 A child of sufficient understanding must be allowed regular access to information held about him or her, consistent with his or her best interests. He or she must read or be told what has been recorded unless it falls within one of the exceptions set out above.
6.4 A child must be encouraged to record his or her own observations on the case record including when there is disagreement about an entry in the file.


7. Application by Parents

7.1 If the worker considers that the child does not understand the nature of the request, the parent may make a request on the child's behalf. However, it must be established and recorded that the request must be in the interests of the child, rather than the interests of the parent.
7.2 If a parent seeks to have access to his or her child's records, the worker dealing with the request must assess whether the child might be able to request access to the records for him or herself. If this is the case, the worker must check that it is the child's choice for the parent to see the records on his or her behalf. If it is, the child will be asked to confirm this in writing and access to the parent can then be agreed.
7.3 Whether or not a child is capable of understanding the request or has consented to the parent making the request, it is important that a parent must only be given access to the information about the child if the worker in consultation with his or her manager is satisfied that the request is made in the child's and not the parent's interest.


8. Application by Agents

8.1 A request for access to records may be made through an agent, for example, an Advocate. 
8.2 It is the agent's responsibility to produce satisfactory evidence that he or she has authority to have access to the records. This will always include proof of their identity. 
8.3 The Team Manager will decide whether the representative will be allowed access, having sought Legal Advice if necessary.


9. Application on Behalf of Deceased Persons

9.1 Where a request is received for access to the records of someone who has died, the person making the application must be asked to explain in writing their relationship to the deceased person, what information is needed and why. The access to records officer must make a decision in consultation with his or her manager and advise the applicant in writing of the decision with reasons.


10. Correction or Erasure of Records 

10.1 If a person considers that any part of the information held on his or her records is inaccurate, he or she has the right to apply in writing for it to be corrected or erased. 
10.2 If the objection is justified, there is a duty to correct or erase the appropriate information.


11. Refusal of Access

11.1 If the access to records officer considers there are reasons to refuse a request for access to all or any part of the records (see Section 2, Exceptions), this must be discussed with his or her manager and legal advice must be obtained.
11.2 The line manager must be asked to make a final decision on refusal of access, having sought legal advice if required. If refused, the date of the request and reason for refusal must be recorded in the file.
11.3 The decision and the reasons for it must be confirmed in writing to the person requesting access, or in a format appropriate to the needs of the person concerned.


12. Appeals Process

12.1 The person concerned has the right to apply to the Court for an Order to disclose, correct or erase information held. They also have a right of appeal to the Information Commissioner.

End