Decision : Closed after initial enquiries
Decision date : 15 May 2019
The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: We will not investigate this complaint about a data breach. The Information Commissioner’s Office is better placed to consider it. And Mrs Q may go to court if she would like compensation.
- The complainant, who I have called Mrs Q, complained that Brighton and Hove City Council’s Child Services breached her confidentiality after she reported her concerns about a child’s welfare.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- The Local Government Act 1974 sets out our powers but also imposes restrictions on what we can investigate.
- We investigate complaints about ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. In this statement, I have used the word ‘fault’ to refer to these. We must also consider whether any fault has had an adverse impact on the person making the complaint. I refer to this as ‘injustice’. We provide a free service, but must use public money carefully. We may decide not to start or continue with an investigation if we believe there is another body better placed to consider this complaint. (Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6), as amended)
- We normally expect someone to refer the matter to the Information Commissioner if they have a complaint about data protection. However, we may decide to investigate if we think there are good reasons. (Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6), as amended)
- The law says we cannot normally investigate a complaint when someone could take the matter to court. However, we may decide to investigate if we consider it would be unreasonable to expect the person to go to court. (Local Government Act 1974, section 26(6)(c), as amended)
How I considered this complaint
- I considered the information Mrs Q provided. I considered Mrs Q’s response to a draft of this decision.
What I found
- The Information Commissioner’s Office has the power to take enforcement action against a council for a data breach.
- The County Court considers claims for compensation from people who have suffered damage, including distress, because of a data breach.
- Mrs Q reported her concerns about the welfare of a child to the Council’s Children’s Services. When Children’s Services investigated, an officer told the child’s parents Mrs Q was the person who had contacted the Council. Mrs Q said she is now being victimised by the child’s parents.
- Mrs Q complained to the Council. However, although an officer apparently admitted she had told the child’s parents Mrs Q had contacted Children’s Services, the Council later told Mrs Q there had been no breach of her confidentiality.
- Mrs Q would like compensation from the Council for the impact of its alleged data breach on her.
- We will not investigate this complaint.
- Mrs Q’s complaint is about a data breach. This is a matter the Information Commissioner’s Office can consider. It has the power to take enforcement action against the Council if it decides there has been a data breach. So the Information Commissioner’s Office is better placed to consider Mrs Q’s complaint.
- Mrs Q would like the Council to compensate her for the impact its alleged data breach on her. She may make a claim to the County Court for compensation. I think it would be reasonable for her to do so.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman