The UK’s independent authority set up to uphold information rights in the public interest, promoting openness by public bodies and data privacy for individuals.

In more detail

What is social work data?

The DPA 2018 defines ‘social work data’ as personal data which:

  • paragraph 8 of Schedule 3, Part 3 of the DPA 2018 applies to (generally this includes particular bodies processing personal data in connection with their social services functions or to provide social care); but
  • is not education data or health data.

Can I charge a fee for providing access to social work data?

No. There are no special rules which allow you to charge fees if you are complying with a SAR for social work data. For more information about when you can charge a fee please see ‘Can we charge a fee?’.

Is social work data ever exempt from subject access?

The exemptions and restrictions that apply to other types of personal data also apply to social work data. So, for example, if social work data contains personal data relating to someone other than the requester (such as a family member), you must consider the rules about third party data before disclosing it to the requester. However, you should not normally withhold information that identifies a professional, such as a social worker, carrying out their duties for this reason. See ‘What should we do if the request involves information about other individuals?’ for more information.

There are also further exemptions and restrictions that apply to social work data in particular. These are explained in the next sections.

Is social work data exempt if a court processes it?

You are exempt from the right of access if the social work data is:

  • processed by a court;
  • supplied in a report or given as evidence to the court in the course of proceedings; and
  • those proceedings are subject to certain specific statutory rules that allow the social work data to be withheld from the individual it relates to.

If you think this exemption might apply, see paragraph 9(2) of Schedule 3, Part 3 of the DPA 2018 for full details of the statutory rules.

Is social work data exempt if disclosure goes against an individual’s expectations and wishes?

Yes. There is an exemption from the right of access if you receive a request (in exercise of a power conferred by an enactment or rule of law) for social work data concerning an individual from someone:

  • with parental responsibility for an individual aged under 18 (or 16 in Scotland); or
  • appointed by court to manage the affairs of an individual who is incapable of managing their own affairs.

But the exemption only applies to the extent that complying with the request would disclose information that:

  • the individual provided in the expectation that it would not be disclosed to the requester, unless the individual has since expressly indicated that they no longer have that expectation;
  • was obtained as part of an examination or investigation that the individual consented to, in the expectation that the information would not be disclosed in this way, unless the individual has since expressly indicated that they no longer have that expectation; or
  • the individual has expressly indicated should not be disclosed in this way.

Is social work data exempt if disclosure could cause serious harm?

Yes. You are exempt from complying with a SAR for social work data to the extent that complying with the request would be likely to prejudice carrying out social work because it would be likely to cause serious harm to the physical or mental health of any individual. This is known as the “serious harm test” for social work data.

Is there a restriction if you are a local authority in Scotland?

Yes. This is a restriction rather than an exemption. It applies if you process social work data as a local authority in Scotland (as defined by the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968), and you receive a request for that data.

It restricts you from disclosing social work data in response to a SAR if:

  • the data came from the Principal Reporter (as defined by the Children’s Hearings (Scotland) Act 2011) in the course of their statutory duties; and
  • the individual whom the data is about is not entitled to receive it from the Principal Reporter.

If there is a question as to whether you need to comply with a SAR in this situation, you must inform the Principal Reporter within 14 days of the question arising.

You may only disclose the social work data in response to the SAR if the Principal Reporter has told you they think the serious harm test for social work data is not met.