Date laid: 17 May 2018
Parliamentary procedure: affirmative
Date laid: 21 May 2018
Parliamentary procedure: affirmative
Summary: Under the provisions of the Digital Economy Act 2017 these Regulations and Codes allow public authorities, including local authorities, to share personal information so that they can target public services more effectively towards those who need them. In line with the recommendations of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, the Regulations limit the disclosure of information to (four) specific objectives: multiple disadvantages, television retuning, fuel poverty, and water poverty, and specify which public authorities will be permitted to disclose or receive information for each objective. A submission from medConfidential asked why only two items from the list in Regulation 2(2) are sufficient to count as “multiple” disadvantages and why data can be exchanged about the whole household if only one individual meets these criteria. The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport’s responses are included in the report.
This group of instruments is drawn to the special attention of the House on the ground of policy interest.
1.These draft instruments have been laid by the Cabinet Office but, due to a machinery of government change, will be made by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). The Regulations and five Codes are accompanied by two Explanatory Memoranda. They are made under the Digital Economy Act 2017 (“the Act”) to allow public authorities, including local authorities, to share personal information so that they can target public services more effectively towards those who need them.
2.Because information gathered from members of the public about their personal affairs by a public body may usually only be used for the purpose for which it was originally obtained, the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee (DPRRC) expressed grave concerns during the passage of the Bill about the breadth of the powers the Government were seeking.
3.In line with the DPRRC’s recommendations these Regulations limit the disclosure of information to (four) specific objectives: multiple disadvantages, television retuning, fuel poverty, and water poverty, and specify which public authorities will be permitted to disclose or receive information for each objective. The Regulations also amend section 36 of the Act, to include an additional fuel poverty measure for which information can be disclosed to licensed gas and electricity suppliers.
4.There are further constraints on the use of these powers: any information sharing under these objectives must be processed in line with the requirements of data protection legislation, and any person using or disclosing information under these powers must have regard to the Information sharing Code of Practice: Public Service Delivery, Debt and Fraud laid on 21May 2018.
5.The Government have also laid several other Codes required by the Act to provide information on the processing and the use of such data and the safeguard and oversight arrangements, so that the public can understand what data is being shared and why. These Codes are all subject to the affirmative procedure initially but later amendments can be made using the negative procedure.
6.We received a submission from medConfidential expressing some concerns about the Government’s approach in the Codes. (The full submission and DCMS’ response to the key points raised are published on our webpage).
7.MedConfidential asked why in the Codes and Regulations two items on the list in Regulation 2(2) are sufficient to count as “multiple” disadvantages. DCMS responded:
“‘Multiple’ in the context of the multiple disadvantages objective means an individual or household that is affected by two or more disadvantages. The complete list of factors that constitute a disadvantage are listed in Schedule 2, paragraph 2(3) in the regulations.
For sharing to be permitted, there must not only be the presence of two or more disadvantages which adversely affect an individual or household, but any sharing must also meet the conditions in paragraph 2(1)(a) - (c) of the Schedule to the Regulations. When the criteria of this objective are fully met, information-sharing is permitted whether presenting at an individual or household level.
We are not looking for the minimum threshold for data to be shared. The purpose of the objective is to assist individuals or households with a combination of disadvantages through improvement or targeting of a public service or facilitation of the provision of a benefit provided to individuals or households, and improving the well-being of individuals or households. The objective was initially developed to support the Troubled Families programme, which supports the identification of families across England who face multiple problems and helps ensure appropriate services are provided to them. But it is also intended to be available for similar programmes. Grouping the factors into categories would unnecessarily limit the ability of authorities to provide positive interventions when other combinations of factors arose.”
8.MedConfidential also asked why data can be exchanged about the whole household if only one individual meets these criteria. DCMS responded:
“The problems of one household member can affect the outcomes of others in the same household. In particular, public services need to be able to offer services to children who are impacted due to the problems of adults in the households, such as unemployment, domestic abuse or addiction. For example, DWP analysis shows just how stark the difference is between outcomes for children in workless families and those in lower-income working families. Children growing up in workless families are almost twice as likely as children in working families to fail at all stages of their education.”
9.In their response, DCMS have also offered assurances that these codes of practice are consistent with each other and have been drafted to be compliant with the new Data Protection Act 2018 and the latest standards of best practice for information sharing, including the “Data Science Ethical Framework”. DCMS state that they have regularly consulted the Office of the Information Commissioner (ICO) during the development of the Codes. The current Codes will be reviewed when the new ICO data-sharing code and other relevant guidance is published to determine whether changes need to be made.
1 DPRRC , Session 2016–17 (HL Paper 95), paragraph 25.
2 See [accessed 13 June 2018].
3 Department for Work and Pensions, , April 2017 [accessed 13 June 2018].