Decision : Closed after initial enquiries
Decision date : 15 Feb 2019
The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: The Ombudsman will not investigate Ms X’s complaint about the Council’s information sharing during a foster carer’s application process. The Information Commissioner is considering the same issue.
- The complainant, whom I shall call Ms X, says the Council shared information about her to people without her consent and did not have the correct policies in place.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- 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)
- 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)
How I considered this complaint
- I considered the information Ms X provided with her complaint which included the Council’s reply. I considered Ms X’s comments on a draft version of this decision.
What I found
- Ms X says she applied to the Council to be a foster carer. She says as part of the process the Council shared sensitive information about her to officers within the Council without her permission. She believes this was a criminal offence. She reported it to the Police. It decided to take no further action.
- Ms X complained to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) for a decision on whether the Council breached the Data Protection Act (DPA).
- Ms X says the ICO cannot provide the remedy she seeks. She would like compensation for the loss of opportunity to be a foster carer and the damage to her health she says the disclosure caused. She says the Council should have had policies in place to prevent this happening.
- Ms X also complains about the way the Council replied to her complaint.
- Our investigation could not decide if a criminal offence has been convicted.
- The Council believes it has not breached the DPA. It says it was legally required to get the information and did not need Ms X’s consent every time it shared that information internally.
- The ICO is best placed to decide if the disclosure is a DPA breach. Once the ICO has made its decision it will be open to Ms X to return to us to consider if there has been any injustice caused to Ms X from any maladministration. This could include if the Council had failed to have correct policies in place. It is not suitable to investigate her complaint while the ICO is considering the same events.
- It is not a good use of public resources to investigate complaints about complaint procedures, if we are unable to deal with the substantive issue.
- The Ombudsman will not investigate this complaint. This is because the ICO is considering the crux of Ms X’s complaint.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman