East Sussex County Council (19 005 433)

Category : Children's care services > Other

Decision : Closed after initial enquiries

Decision date : 30 Aug 2019

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: The Ombudsman will not investigate Mrs X’s complaint about an alleged data breach involving her family’s personal data. This is because the Information Commissioner’s Office is the appropriate body to consider her concerns.

The complaint

  1. Mrs X complains the Council wrongly shared information from her son with another family member. She says this has led to problems within the family. Mrs X wants the Council to find out who was responsible, and to take steps to make sure the same mistake does not happen again,

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. 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)
  2. We normally expect someone to refer the matter to the Information Commissioner‘s Office (ICO) 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 Mrs X’s complaint to the Ombudsman and the information she provided. I also gave her the opportunity to comment on a draft statement before reaching a final decision on her complaint.

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What I found

  1. The ICO is the UK’s independent authority set up to uphold information rights. It promotes openness by public bodies and protects the privacy of individuals. It deals with complaints about public authorities’ failures to comply with data protection legislation. This includes disclosing information in error and wrongly using a person’s data.
  2. There is no charge for making a complaint to the ICO, and its complaints procedure is relatively easy to use. Where someone has a complaint about data protection, the Ombudsman usually expects them to bring the matter to the attention of the ICO.
  3. I consider the ICO to be in a much better position than the Ombudsman to consider Mrs X’s complaint. It can decide if there has been a breach of her family’s personal data. If there has, it can decide if the Council has dealt with the breach appropriately. The ICO has much wider powers than the Ombudsman to act if it finds the Council has failed in its duties as a data controller. Mrs X should therefore complain to the ICO, because it is the appropriate body to deal with her concerns.

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Final decision

  1. The Ombudsman will not investigate Mrs X’s complaint. This is because the Information Commissioner’s Office is in a better position than the Ombudsman to deal with her concerns.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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