Tag Archives: freedom of information

Data Protection and Freedom of Information

Getting information from public bodies

Access to general information

The Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA) provides the right of access to recorded information held by a public authority. It applies to all categories of information held, with the exception of your own personal data.

The What do They Know site is run by UK Citizens OnLine Democracy and help people access information about central government, local government, Parliament, the NHS, the armed forces, state funded schools and universities and other public authorities.

The blog ‘Information Rights and Wrongs’ has some useful discussion of data protection issues and disclosure. See this post relating to the ‘balancing of interests test’ when considering if personal data should be disclosed.

The Information Commissioner’s Officer sets out a clear guide to making requests for information. In particular you are advised to consider the following points before making your request:

 

  • Is the information you want already available, for example, on the authority’s website?
  • Is the information you want your own personal data? (If so, you will need to make a subject access request, which we discuss below)
  • Is the authority likely to have the information? Public authorities must give reasonable advice and assistance to anyone asking for information, so you should feel free to ask for help in making your request.
  • Is the information you want suitable for general publication. The aim of the Freedom of Information Act is to make information available to the general public. You can only obtain information that would be given to anybody who asked for it, or would be suitable for the general public to see.
  • Some information, such as records about a dead relative, or documents you need for legal purposes, may not always be available under the Act. However, you may have a right to see the information you want under other legislation. The public authority holding the information you want should advise you.

It is also a good idea to think clearly about how you are going to frame your request. For example, a FOI request asking a LA to confirm ‘how many corrupt social workers it employs’ is very unlikely to meet with any useful response as this is simply too broad and general a request.

The ICO advises as follows:

If your request does lack any serious or clear purpose or if it is not focused on acquiring information, then the FOIA and EIR are probably not an appropriate means through which to pursue your concern. You might do better to explore whether there are other more suitable channels through which to take up the issue with the authority.

You should also bear in mind that the FOIA includes a safeguard against requests which exceed the cost limits for compliance (Section 12). The equivalent provision in the EIR is once again [Regulation 12(4)(b)] – manifestly unreasonable requests .

Therefore, if you are planning to ask for a large volume of information, or make a very general request, you should first consider whether you could narrow or refocus the scope of the request, as this may help you get what you really want and reduce any unnecessary burden or costs on the authority. Alternatively, you could try approaching the public authority for advice and assistance to help you reduce the scope of your request and cut down the cost of compliance – they have a duty to consider what advice and assistance they can provide.

Although you don’t have to say why you want the information, if you are happy to do so it might avoid a lot of wasted time and be more likely to get you what you want.

 

Access to information about you

The Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA) provides you with the right to access information that relates to you personally.

Section 7 allows individuals to make requests for their personal information, which is defined as data that must relate to a living individual and allow that individual to be identified from it (either on its own or along with other information likely to come into the organisation’s possession).

Section 36 makes it clear that individuals do not need the consent of professionals to record meetings/visits, as the information being discussed in that situation is personal to them and therefore exempt from the data protection principles. There may be problems if the meeting is going to deal with issues relating to a third party. For further discussion about recording meetings between parents and social workers, see this post. 

Data Subject Access Request (DSAR)

Applying for information about yourself is called a Data Subject Access Request (DSAR). It can be helpful to ask the LA  for all documentation relating to your case, such as internal emails, if you are not happy with the way your case has been handled.

For further information, see the helpful Advice Sheet about access to records published by the Family Rights Group.

Children can also make requests, if they are considered to be sufficiently mature to understand what they are doing. To request your information, you should write to the Children’s Services department which is holding the information about you stating clearly what information you want and that you are asking for it under the Data Protection Act.

The Information Commissioner has provided a ‘Subject Access Code of Practice’ to help organisations deal with such requests for personal data by individuals. The maximum charge that can be made is £10 and organisations must respond within 40 days. 

 

How long can a LA hold information about you?

See this post from suesspicioussminds who discusses the case involving Northumberland County Council [2015] who were accused of acting unlawfully in holding on to data for 35 years. The claimant said he had been unfairly treated by the LA and he wanted his records destroyed. The Judge found that the LA were not acting unlawfully; there could be good reasons for holding on to such data – such as providing information to help later investigations into child abuse or malpractice.

Northumberland’s policy is:

… specifically to retain the records for 35 years after the case is closed, unless the child is or becomes looked after (in which case the retention policy is 75 years from the date of birth) or adopted (in which case the retention period is 100 years from the date of the Adoption Order).

Individual LA’s may have different policies and apply different time periods. What the Northumberland case makes clear is that this particular policy has survived legal challenge and found to be lawful. So it may be that information is retained for a considerable time.

 

Contact the Information Commissioner

The Information Commissioner’s Office is the UK’s independent authority set up to uphold information rights in the public interest, promoting openness by public bodies and data privacy for individuals. You can find out more here.

If you are not happy with the way a public body deals with your request for information,  you can make a complaint to the Information Commissioner.

Information Commissioner’s Office
Wycliffe House
Water Lane
Wilmslow
Cheshire
SK9 5AF

Telephone: 0303 123 1113
Fax: 01625 524 510
Email the Information Commissioner: casework@ico.gsi.gov.uk

 

Are Bonuses paid to Social Workers?

If there are no targets to take children into care, then say so. What’s so hard about that? And if you won’t say so, why not?

The issue of ‘adoption targets’ and bonuses paid to social workers has for some years now been a feature of the intense feelings of distrust and dislike many feel for professionals in this sector. 

We have discussed the issue of ‘adoption targets’ in another post and how it seems that targets set up to speed up finding homes for children in care have been interpreted as pushing social workers to focus on younger, more ‘adoptable’ children in order to improve how they hit these targets. We have argued that the statistics don’t seem to support this but that there is a lack of transparency around this issue which doesn’t aid understanding. 

 

And what does ‘performance’ mean?

Sarah Phillimore writes:

It was always my understanding that social workers were paid a salary – nothing more, nothing less – and that talk of them getting ‘bonuses’ was just more wild conspiracy theorising. There were proposals for a pilot scheme relating to bonus payments in 2009 with a view to rolling out the scheme nationally in 2013 but I don’t know what happened to that. This proposal met with sceptical comment from Community Care and as far as I am aware, it didn’t happen.

A FOI request in 2012 by Shelia Hersom produced this response about payment of bonuses to social workers. The response received did not seem to indicate that additional money was routinely paid to meet ‘targets’.

Social Workers do not receive any other specific non-monetary bonuses or
commissions. However, they may be entitled to a non-cash award, which
would be at the manager s discretion. Non-cash awards can potentially be
awarded to any KCC member of staff and are not exclusive to Social
Workers. Non-cash awards are awarded to individuals or teams as an
immediate recognition of extra effort or one-off successes. The value
of the non-cash award will not exceed £50 for an individual.

It seems that there are problems with both recruiting and retaining social workers and money additional to salary payments may be forthcoming to try and meet these problems:

Market premium payments are made to ensure the retention of experienced
caseholding Social Workers and to keep salary levels competitive within
the District DIAT, Children and Families and Disabled Children s teams in
addition to market premium payments made to Newly Qualified Social Workers
and Social Workers recruited from overseas.

One-off recruitment incentive payments are also made to Principal Social
Workers to encourage new staff to come to the Kent District and Disabled
Children s teams and to Newly Qualified Social Workers in order to offer
incentives similar to other local authorities.

The specific question was asked: ‘Question 9. Are there any targets for forced adoption? If yes please supply details?’  The answer was ‘no’. 

Then I was sent a link to this article in the Maidstone and Medway News on September 20th 2014. A council spokesperson said:

Children’s social work is one of the hardest and most demanding roles in the public sector and we need to attract and retain people with talent and experience. This is a nationwide issue, which is why we have to offer attractive incentives to ensure we get the best people we can looking after Kent’s vulnerable children.

Eligibility criteria apply to these payments, which are available to social workers, senior practitioners and team managers in district teams and disabled children’s service, and are dependent on performance.

This makes me very uneasy. Paying social workers bonuses for ‘performance’ immediately raises the question – just what exactly is involved in ‘performing’ well to attract such a bonus?

I have made a Freedom of Information Request to Kent Council asking them to specify how many social workers qualified for this bonus in 2014, how much they were paid and what are the details of such a scheme.

I will update with the response I get. I agree with what Andrew Pack says:

What I would say, for the ultra-cautious people, is that I would agree that the lack of transparency on ‘payments and adoption targets’ is deeply unhelpful and creates a genuine reason for people to feel sceptical, uncomfortable and unhappy. The absence of clarity and transparency is itself very shabby. It may or may not have distorted how many times adoption was recommended in final social work evidence, it may or may not have had an impact on individual people’s cases. At this point, we don’t have the evidence to draw a proper conclusion and that in itself is wrong. It creates at best, a fishy odour, and as we well know, “Justice must not only be done, it must be seen to be done”

Update – Kent Responds Oct 2014

Dear Ms Phillimore

Thank you for your request for information made under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) 2000, relating to bonus payments to social workers. I am pleased to provide the response below:

I would be grateful for information to answer the following questions: 

a) the total bonuses paid to social workers in 2014

The market premium/retention payments made to Social Workers for 2014 was £354,639.35

b) the total number of social workers who qualified for a bonus in 2014

262 Social Workers qualified for the market premium/retention payments

The information is for case-holding Social Workers (Social Worker – Newly Qualified, Social Worker and Senior Practitioner) within Specialist Children’s Services, receiving market premiums and recruitment premiums between 1st January and 25th September 2014.

c) disclosure of the scheme and performance targets that qualifies a social  worker for a bonus 

Additional Criteria for Market Premium Payment

Social Workers

  • carrying a full caseload
  • performance level – achieving or above
  • not subject to any formal ER process
  • working in post for a minimum of 4 months during the qualifying period, i.e. 01 June-30 November or 01 December-31 May (e.g. staff on sick leave for more than 2 months in that period would not qualify)
  • not on probation

Senior Practitioners and Team Managers

  • performance level – achieving or above
  • not subject to any formal ER process
  • working in post for a minimum of 4 months during the qualifying period, i.e. 01 June-30 November or 01 December-31 May (e.g. staff on sick leave for more than 2 months in that period would not qualify)
  • not on probation

But how much further forward does this take me, given that I still don’t know how ‘performance’ is defined?

Reference to ‘performance’  probably means reference to KPIs (key performance indicators), such as number of cases held or closed, number of s47 investigations done. But the lack of transparency does mean that parents from Kent would not be unreasonable to at least feel anxious that decisions on individual cases were taken in order to get the bonus.

I will edit again if I can get any further information.

 

EDIT – I reply to Kent

On 15th October 2014 I sent the following email:

Thanks for your speedy response to my original query. Is it possible to ask you to expand upon your answer or do I need to raise a fresh request?

I would be grateful if you were able to refer me to any document or written policy that can explain what is meant by ‘performance level – achieving or above’.

This is because many people appear to believe that social workers are financially rewarded for getting children adopted and  if that isn’t the case it would be useful to be able to demonstrate that this isn’t what these bonuses are about.

 

EDIT – Kent reply on 23rd October 2014. Lots of words but no information.

Thank you for your request for information made under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) 2000, relating to performance levels. I am pleased to provide the response below:

The reference to ‘Performance level – achieving or above’ in the response to your previous FOI request (copy attached) relates to the process (‘Total Contribution’) which Kent County Council (KCC) uses to measure individual performance throughout each year (April to March). A total contribution assessment takes into account all the elements of an individual’s performance during a work year: their day to day behaviours, the quality and impact of their skills and aptitudes in their job. It applies to all KCC employees employed on the Kent Scheme terms and conditions, including those on the Kent Scheme working in schools.

Further information on the Total Contribution process is set out in the attached guidebook.

So no help there in defining ‘performance’. So I turn to the guidebook.

The guidebook sets out the Four Key Elements of Total Contribution.

Assessment Category Elements
Objectives and Accountabilities
  • Delivery to Action Plan
  • Effectiveness in job role on a day to day basis
  • Targets
  • Quality Standards
  • Budget Control
  • Customer Feedback
  • Peer group/360 degree feedback
Values and behaviours
  • Continuously improving in terms of how the job is done
  • Demonstrating enhanced delivery through behaviour
  • Living our values and behaviours
Wider Contribution
  • Contributing to team,
  • Project work outside the normal job
  • Participation in KCC work activities not directly related to job role
Personal Development
  • Achievement of Development Plan
  • Application of Development
  • Attainment and use of required skills
  • Qualifications attained

 

What is that word I can see in the top right hand box? The ominous word ‘targets’

So what ‘targets’ do they mean? Back to the guidebook. They don’t seem to be identified – or rather, the individual employee has responsiblity for selecting their own ‘targets’.

    • Check and adjust your targets throughout the year according to developments at work. Your targets are dynamic and should reflect what you achieve throughout the year so they need to change when changes occur.
    • Make sure you get at least one opportunity, mid year, to talk about progress against your targets with your manager. Ideally 1:1 meetings, or supervision sessions will also help you keep a tab on your progress.
    • Ensure that the development needs you identified are put in to action.

Cash benefits get further mention:

Cash awards are intended to be used throughout the year to reward specific actions. They can also be considered as part of rewarding the overall Total Contribution but managers need to ensure that there is no double counting of an individual’s contribution and remind themselves of any recognition given or payments made earlier in the year. They should not be used as an alternative to making the proper TCP assessment or to supplement the corporately agreed performance or general award.

So what do I learn from 40 pages of rather dense management speak? That ‘targets’ are important in order to measure whether or not employees are performing sufficiently well to be rewarded on top of their salaries. I learn that these ‘targets’ are dynamic and ‘need to change when changes occur’. But there is no clarity as to what possible areas or achievements these ‘targets’ relate.

While I am grateful for Kent’s speedy response to my queries, I can’t help but be disappointed by the nature of their reply. It’s little wonder the proponents of the forced adoption debate gain so much traction when a simple question gets a 40 page booklet in reply, that is full of lovely words but very little information.

Remember my earlier question? … many people appear to believe that social workers are financially rewarded for getting children adopted and if that isn’t the case it would be useful to be able to demonstrate that this isn’t what these bonuses are about.

My question is unanswered and I am left with a growing sense of irritation and frustation – this debate is important.  The way the State intereferes in the lives of individuals has huge ramifications in so many areas. Due process matters. This is an unnecessarily opaque response to an important question.  We are all entitled to as much clarity and honesty as possible about what is done in our name, with our taxes. If there are no targets to take children into care, then say so. What’s so  hard about that? And if you won’t say so, why not?

 

 

‘Targets’ defined in 2012 FOI response

The 2012 FOI request lead to the provision of this information regarding  ‘targets’ that are used to monitor performance in Specialist Children’s Services and are reported at a District level on a monthly basis.  Information relating to performance is available at Social Worker level from which the performance of individual Social Workers can be measured.

 

HOW MUCH ARE WE DEALING WITH ? Target
Number of CAFs completed per 10,000 population under 18 58.9
Number of TAFs per 10,000 population under 18 67.7
Number of Referrals per 10,000 population under 18 533.1
NI 68 – Percentage of Referrals going on to Initial Assessment 65.0%
Number of Initial Assessments per 10,000 population under 18 415.4
Number of Core Assessments per 10,000 population under 18 170.6
Number of S47 Investigations per 10,000 population under 18 109.2
Percentage of S47 Investigations proceeding to Initial CP Conference 70.0%
Number of Initial CP Conferences per 10,000 population under 18 44.3
Number of CIN per 10,000 population under 18 (includes CP and LAC) 290.0
Numbers of Children with a CP Plan per 10,000 population under 18 40.0
Children looked after per 10,000 population aged under 18 47
Number of Looked After Children with a CP plan. 30
Numbers of Unallocated Cases for over 28 days (Business) 100
HOW LONG IS IT TAKING US ? Target
Percentage of TAFs held within one calendar month of CAF upload 70%
NI 59 – Percentage of IA’s for children’s social care carried out within 7 working days of referral 69.0%
Initial Assessments in progress outside of timescale 200
(NI 60) – Percentage of Core Assessments that were carried out within timescale 80.4%
Core Assessments in progress outside of timescale 100
NI 67 – Child protection cases which were reviewed within required timescales 97.9%
NI 66 – Looked after children cases which were reviewed within required timescales 94.6%
HOW WELL ARE WE DOING IT ? Target
Percentage of Case File Audits judged adequate or better 85%
Percentage of open cases with Ethnicity recorded 95%
Percentage of Referrals where the Referrer is informed of the outcome 80%
Percentage of Children seen at Initial Assessment 90%
Percentage of Children seen at Core Assessment 90%
Percentage of Children seen at Section 47 enquiry 90%
Percentage of Children with a CP plan where all statutory visits are within timescale 90%
Percentage of Looked After Children where all statutory visits are within timescale 90%
Percentage of Looked After Children aged 5 to 16 with a Personal Education Plan (PEP) 95%
Participation at Looked After Children Reviews 95%
Children subject to a CP Plan not allocated to a Qualified Social Worker 0
Looked After Children not allocated to a Qualified Social Worker 5
ARE WE ACHIEVING GOOD OUTCOMES ? Target
Percentage of TAFs closed where outcomes achieved or closed to single agency support 90%
Percentage of TAFs closed because the case has escalated to Children’s Social Services 7%
Percentage of referrals with a previous referral within 3 months 6%
Percentage of referrals with a previous referral within 12 months 23.0%
NI 65 – Percentage of children becoming the subject of a CP Plan for a second or subsequent time 13.7%
NI 64 – Child Protection Plans lasting 2 years or more at the point of de-registration 6.0%
Percentage of Current CP Plans lasting 18 months or more 7.0%
NI 62 – LAC Placement Stability:  3 or more moves in the last 12 months 10.1%
NI 63 – LAC Placement Stability: Same placement for last 2 years 67.5%
LAC Dental and Health assessments held within required timescale 85.0%
Percentage of Children Adopted 11%
ARE WE SUPPORTING OUR STAFF ? Target
Percentage of caseholding posts unfilled (100% – QSW inc Agency Posts) 10%
Percentage of caseholding posts filled by agency staff (Agency Staff ÷ Establishment) 10%
Percentage of caseholding posts filled by Qualified Social Workers (QSW posts exc Agency ÷ Establishment) 90%
Average Caseloads of social workers in fieldwork teams 20

 

 

Further reading

You may be interested in these articles by Andrew Pack at the Transparency Project for more detailed consideration of whether it is possible that there is a financial motive or incentive driving care proceedings.