Decision : Closed after initial enquiries
Decision date : 15 Jan 2020
The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: The Ombudsman will not investigate Mrs X’s complaint about a potential breach of her personal data. This is because the Information Commissioner’s Office is the appropriate body to consider her concerns.
- The complainant, whom I shall call Mrs X, complains about a potential breach of her personal data
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- 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’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)
How I considered this complaint
- I considered Mrs X’s complaint to the Ombudsman and the information she provided. I also gave Mrs X the opportunity to comment on a draft statement before reaching a final decision on her complaint.
What I found
- Mrs X says she complained to the Council, but it sent her a response meant for somebody else. The Council has accepted this but has not explained how the mistake happened. Mrs X wants an explanation and is worried the Council might have mixed up other personal information.
- Data protection and information handling is at the heart of Mrs X’s complaint. 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 wrongly disclosing personal information. The ICO has wide powers to take action against data controllers – such as councils.
- 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. This is because the ICO is in a better position than the Ombudsman to consider such complaints. It is the expert body set up by Parliament to consider such matters. Mrs X should therefore contact the ICO as it is the appropriate body to consider her concerns
- The Ombudsman will not investigate Mrs X’s complaint. This is because the Information Commissioner’s Office is the appropriate body to consider her concerns.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman