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Surrey County Council (16 016 754)

Category : Children's care services > Other

Decision : Closed after initial enquiries

Decision date : 28 Mar 2017

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: The Ombudsman will not investigate Mr & Mrs A’s complaint about data protection issues. This is because these are best considered and decided by the Information Commissioner. The Ombudsman will not investigate complaint handling matters where we have decided not to investigate the nub of the complaint.

The complaint

  1. The complainants, whom I shall call Mr & Mrs A, complain about a data protection breach by the Council; its responses to their subject access requests; and about the Council’s handling of their complaint about these matters.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. We can decide whether to start or discontinue an investigation into a complaint within our jurisdiction. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 24A(6) and 34B(8), as amended)
  2. 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)
  3. 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)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I considered the information Mr & Mrs A provided in making their complaint to this office. This included their complaint correspondence and the Council’s responses. I sent Mr & Mrs A a copy of my draft decision and considered their comments in response.

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What I found

  1. In October 2016, Mr & Mrs A complained to the Council after becoming aware it had committed a data protection breach by sharing sensitive personal information about them, and their child, with Mr A’s ex wife. Mr & Mrs A say the breach caused them significant distress and caused a further breakdown of Mr A’s relationship with his ex wife which had a significant impact on planning arrangements for their daughter’s secondary education.
  2. Mr & Mrs A say the Council has failed to respond adequately and within the required timescales throughout. The Council has still not explained how the error happened nor has it confirmed whether the records have been corrected.
  3. Mr & Mrs A also complain about the Council’s responses to their subject access requests and about the Council’s handling of their complaint throughout.
  4. The Council has acknowledged the data breach was caused by officer error. It has signposted Mr & Mrs A to the Information Commissioner’s office should they remain dissatisfied with its responses on the data protection issues and to the Ombudsman about the complaint handling concerns.

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Final decision

  1. I will not investigate because the crux of this complaint relates to data protection matters which are best considered by the Information Commissioner’s office. I note Mr & Mrs A also complain about the Council’s handling of their complaint and the Council signposted them to this office in this regard. However, we will not investigate complaints about complaint handling where we are not considering the crux of the complaint.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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