Need benefits? Say goodbye to privacy

On the 13th of February The Social Security (Information-sharing in relation to Welfare Services etc.) Regulations 2015 come into force. On that date anyone claiming Universal Credit will lose control over who can see their most sensitive personal information. There was a consultation, of course. Sadly, the people who are affected by the new regulations don’t count as important enough to consult and the consultation ended on the 12th of January.

The reason given for these new regulations is that:

“Existing legislation does not provide DWP with a power to routinely disclose information about all claimants receiving UC.”

The consultation sets out exactly what information the DWP want to “routinely disclose”:

3.6 The data provided will include:

  • Full name
  • Initials
  • Contact details including: address, email, telephone
  • Details of others in household, in relation to the relevant Benefit Unit
  • Type of accommodation – private / social rented, owned, none etc.
  • Gender
  • Ethnicity
  • NINO
  • Date of birth / age range
  • Employment status / earning
  • Debts / arrears/rent payable
  • Benefits received including: level of payment, copy of documents (e.g. claimant commitment)
  • Health conditions / disabilities
  • Caring responsibilities
  • Qualifications / training status
  • Transport situation e.g. able to drive /access to car or easy access or public transport
  • Barriers to work
  • Languages spoken
  • Access to financial products such as bank / building / credit union / Post Office card account / credit card
  • Level of personal budgeting
  • Access to computer and internet
  • Level of digital skills

And who your information will be routinely shared by:

  • The Department of Work and Pensions
  • Any “universal support provider” contracted by the DWP
  • Local authorities
  • Credit unions
  • Citizens Advice Bureaux
  • Social landlords
  • Relevant registered charities

The list of “relevant charities” is unclear but a list of those who were specifically consulted includes

“Citizens Advice, Homeless Link, Shelter, The Advice Services Alliance UK, Women’s Aid, Disability Rights UK, Step Change [formerly the Consumer Credit Counselling Service], the National Debtline, Money Advice Service and many others.”

Some of the categories of information to be shared are intensely personal and a lot of people will be horrified to learn that it will be disclosed to a long list of government employees and whatever organisation is deemed “relevant”.  Disclosure of that data to the wrong person could be extremely harmful to many vulnerable people.

The problem with these new regulations goes deeper than just violation of privacy. The reason the DWP want all this information to be shared is so that:

“This information can be supplied to those providers so that they can provide such advice, assistance or support and monitor and evaluate such advice, assistance or support.”

They DWP are talking about Universal Support – described by Lord Fraud as follows:

The roll out of Universal Credit is an opportunity to bring together many different agencies responsible for delivering the current multitude of benefits alongside other local support providers, like local authorities and charities.

Many of these services often work in isolation.

Under Universal Support, these services will be brought together in a joined-up, potentially co-located way, based on local needs to provide whole person support.

Led by a partnership of the local authority and Jobcentre Plus, in the interests of both claimants and the taxpayer.

Whilst we recognise the need to support vulnerable people we also recognise that, for many, vulnerability is not a permanent state but something that affects them temporarily.

We also believe that, even for people with chronic problems, the role of support must be to maximise their life chances, help to move them towards full independence, work readiness (wherever appropriate) and social inclusion.

It looks like social landlords and commercial and charitable organisations you haven’t chosen are going to “support” you whether you want that or not, whether the help is relevant or not, regardless of whether or not they know what they are doing. They are going to be given your private information to do it and they are going to monitor you to check that you obey. And they are going to to it in the interests of “the taxpayer”.

Further Reading

A government agenda to dehumanise benefit claimants – The Guardian

The Social Security (Information-sharing in relation to Welfare Services etc.) (Amendment) Regulations 2015

The consultation for the new data sharing regulations [PDF link]

Lord Freud’s, Minister for Welfare Reform, speech to the Local Government Association (LGA) about Universal Credit and Universal Support

@bendyleopard wrote about some problems she can see with the new data sharing

Included as an indicator of whether you can trust the DWP with your data:

Jobcentre ‘hit squads’ set up benefit claimants to fail, says former official – The Guardian

 

 

Author: Ellavescent

The world is broken and I can't fix it because I am broken. I can, however, rant about it all and this is where I do that when I can get my thoughts together. Most of the time you'll find my words on Twitter rather than here though. I sometimes write for Where's The Benefit too.