Thursday, February 5, 2015

Need benefits? Say goodbye to privacy

On the 13th of February The Social Security (Information-sharing in relation to Welfare Services etc.) Regulations 2015 come into force. On that date anyone claiming Universal Credit will lose control over who can see their most sensitive personal information. There was a consultation, of course. Sadly, the people who are affected by the new regulations don’t count as important enough to consult and the consultation ended on the 12th of January.

The reason given for these new regulations is that:
“Existing legislation does not provide DWP with a power to routinely disclose information about all claimants receiving UC.”
The consultation sets out exactly what information the DWP want to “routinely disclose”:
3.6 The data provided will include:
  • Full name
  • Initials
  • Contact details including: address, email, telephone
  • Details of others in household, in relation to the relevant Benefit Unit
  • Type of accommodation – private / social rented, owned, none etc.
  • Gender
  • Ethnicity
  • NINO
  • Date of birth / age range
  • Employment status / earning
  • Debts / arrears/rent payable
  • Benefits received including: level of payment, copy of documents (e.g. claimant commitment)
  • Health conditions / disabilities
  • Caring responsibilities
  • Qualifications / training status
  • Transport situation e.g. able to drive /access to car or easy access or public transport
  • Barriers to work
  • Languages spoken
  • Access to financial products such as bank / building / credit union / Post Office card account / credit card
  • Level of personal budgeting
  • Access to computer and internet
  • Level of digital skills
And who your information will be routinely shared by:
  • The Department of Work and Pensions
  • Any “universal support provider” contracted by the DWP
  • Local authorities
  • Credit unions
  • Citizens Advice Bureaux
  • Social landlords
  • Relevant registered charities
The list of “relevant charities” is unclear but a list of those who were specifically consulted includes
“Citizens Advice, Homeless Link, Shelter, The Advice Services Alliance UK, Women’s Aid, Disability Rights UK, Step Change [formerly the Consumer Credit Counselling Service], the National Debtline, Money Advice Service and many others.”
Some of the categories of information to be shared are intensely personal and a lot of people will be horrified to learn that it will be disclosed to a long list of government employees and whatever organisation is deemed “relevant”.  Disclosure of that data to the wrong person could be extremely harmful to many vulnerable people.

The problem with these new regulations goes deeper than just violation of privacy...