What is information sharing?
You usually provide information to a single organisation, for example, when you fill in your personal details on your council tax form or answer the questions from your doctor’s receptionist. In many cases the information you provide won’t be passed on to another organisation.
In some cases, though, one organisation may pass information about you to another organisation, or a number of organisations might get together and share your information.
Information about you is sometimes shared within the same organisation. For example, your local authority may use information supplied on a council tax form to help its other departments to update their records.
Why is information shared?
This is done for a number of reasons. For example:
- a hospital where you have had an operation shares information with your GP so that you can be looked after properly once you’ve been discharged;
- a teacher, social worker and health professional share information about a child so the child’s needs can be addressed;
- a local authority shares information with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to allow it to work out a pensioner’s application for housing benefit;
- the police share information with a local authority to help counter antisocial behaviour in the area; or
- credit referencing, where lenders consult a credit reference agency to check your financial standing when you apply for credit.
Information sharing will usually take place where providing a service involves a number of different organisations.
Do I have to consent to information sharing?
Information sharing can often take place without your consent. In many cases where you are not asked your permission, the information sharing will be reasonable and expected. However, it should be clear why the information is being shared and who is involved.
If organisations want to share sensitive or confidential information, they are more likely to need your consent. For example, if they want to share information about your health.
If you are asked to consent to information sharing, you should have a genuine free choice. Consent shouldn’t be used as the basis for sharing information if, in reality, you have little or no choice.
In some cases information may be shared without you even knowing about it. This might be the case where telling you about the sharing would be likely to prejudice a criminal investigation, or prevent a vulnerable person receiving proper protection.
What rights do I have?
You have a legal right to access information held about you. It can be difficult to work out how to get access to information shared by a number of different organisations. However, any of the organisations involved should be able to tell you what you need to do.
You can also ask an organisation to stop sharing information about you. However, they only have to do so where the sharing causes you unjustified damage or distress.
You can also make a request under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 for the information relating to a public body’s information sharing, such as their policies and procedures.
What do I do if I am concerned about information sharing?
The first thing to do is to contact the organisation or organisations that you think are sharing information about you. They should be able to tell you whether information is being shared. If so, they should be able to tell you what the information is, who it is being shared with and why.
The quality of the shared information is important. For example, it should be accurate and up to date. If you have concerns about the quality of the information being shared, or if you have any other concerns, you should take them up first with the relevant organisation or organisations.
If you aren’t satisfied with their response, we may be able to help.