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Welfare Reform and Pensions Act 1999

Commentary

Section 72: Disclosure and use of information
Background

This section is intended to facilitate cross-Government working in a number of social security and employment-related areas in order to deliver the ONE service and Employment Zones; and to ensure that information can be used to best effect in operating the New Deal for Lone Parents, the New Deal for Disabled People, the New Deal for Partners of Unemployed People and the new Personal Capability Assessment.

The ONE service

An important focus of this section is to facilitate the introduction of the ONE service (see also section 57). ONE will be administered by staff from the Employment Service, the Benefits Agency and local authorities, as well as private or voluntary organisations. In this last case, staff will be contracted to carry out parts of the ONE process.

This section does two main things to facilitate the process:

  • First, it will allow staff from any organisation administering ONE to use and disclose information relating to a person’s claim for any benefit involved.

  • Second, it will allow staff who are administering ONE to use and disclose information about a claimant’s employability.

    For example, it will enable information which is collected at the “registration and orientation” stage of the service – such as information about the client’s previous work experience, skills and educational attainment – to be passed on to the client’s personal adviser, who will conduct the interview and may be from a different organisation.

The use and disclosure of information under this section will be limited to persons who are prescribed in regulations.

It is intended that information which is needed to assess the benefit claim will be passed on to the appropriate agency for processing, and that information about the client’s employability will be passed on to their personal adviser.

In the course of the work-focused interview, the personal adviser may identify a source of help or support that is available to the client, and which would improve his capacity to become more independent.

For example, the client might benefit from help with literacy skills. However, since any action other than participation in the interview will be voluntary, any passing of information beyond this stage will be voluntary too. So if the personal adviser makes a suggestion which the client wishes to take up, he would ask the client to sign a disclaimer, allowing the personal adviser to pass a specific piece of information to that specific specialist provider. There is no provision in this Act for this to take place, since it will happen on a purely voluntary basis.

Employment Zones

The Act also provides for the introduction of Employment Zones (see section 60). This section enables information obtained for Jobseeker’s Allowance purposes to be passed on to the Employment Zone provider, which may be an organisation in the public, private or voluntary sector.

The Employment Zone provider will need to know the amount of JSA to which the claimant is entitled, so that they can pay him or her an equivalent amount (minus the nominal amount of JSA which would still be in payment by the DSS). Information will also need to flow from the Employment Zone provider to the Employment Service and Benefits Agency (BA), for example to inform BA when a participant has obtained work so that their nominal JSA payments can be terminated; or when the circumstances of the participant have changed in a way which may require their level of benefit to be increased (such as the birth of a child).

New Deal for Partners of Unemployed People, New Deal for Lone Parents and New Deal for Disabled People

In addition, this section is designed to ensure that information can be used to best effect in operating the New Deal for Lone Parents, the New Deal for Disabled People and the New Deal for Partners of Unemployed People.

  • In the case of the New Deal for Partners of Unemployed People, partners of long-term JSA claimants are invited by the Employment Service to receive specialist advice and support, to help them into work if they wish. The Employment Service may contact the partner direct.

  • For the New Deal for Lone Parents and the New Deal for Disabled People, information provided in connection with a person’s benefit claim may, where appropriate, be passed on by the Benefits Agency to the Employment Service, so that lone parents and disabled people who claim benefits can be contacted and offered advice on jobsearch, training and childcare.

    Schemes under the New Deal for Lone Parents and the New Deal for Disabled People need information to be disclosed to and used by private or voluntary sector organisations where they administer these schemes. Both the New Deal for Lone Parents and the New Deal for Disabled People operate on a voluntary basis.

Personal Capability Assessment

This section also ensures that information collected during the new Personal Capability Assessment which relates to a person’s work-related capabilities (including information that also relates to the question of whether they are technically incapable of work for benefit purposes) can be made available to personal advisers. The information may also be used more generally, for the purpose of enhancing a person’s employment prospects and rehabilitation. The provisions for the Personal Capability Assessment are contained in section 61 and Part II of Schedule 8 (see earlier commentary).

Data Protection

The processing of information in this area will be governed by data protection law, including the Data Protection Act 1998 when commenced. Such processing must be fair and lawful, and comply with the other data protection principles such as the right of individuals to see their own records.

Commentary

Subsection (1) provides a power to make regulations specifying how, to whom, when and for what purposes social security information can be provided by those people mentioned in subsection (2) (Ministers of the Crown and persons providing services to them, local authorities, and persons providing services to, or exercising functions of, local authorities). It limits the use which can be made of such information to “relevant purposes”, as defined in subsection (6).

The section as a whole enables regulations to provide for information-sharing relating to a number of social security and employment-related initiatives. Those powers give flexibility in an area where configurations of services and help are likely to change and evolve – for example, in the light of experience from current pilot and prototype operations. Subsection (1) restricts the use of these regulations to the provisions listed in subsection (3), or to any scheme or arrangements defined under subsection (4).

Subsection (4) enables regulations under subsection (1) to designate schemes or arrangements which are concerned with the employment or training prospects of a claimant or his partner.

It is currently intended to designate the following schemes:

  • the New Deal for Partners of Unemployed People;

  • the New Deal for Lone Parents; and

  • the New Deal for Disabled People.

However, this subsection enables new schemes to be designated as they are developed.

Subsection (5) ensures that regulations made under subsection (1) may enable disclosed information to be used to supplement or amend information already held by another person.

It also enables the recipient in turn to disclose this information to others, or use it for another purpose, insofar as they were permitted to disclose or use the information which they already held. This provision echoes section 122B(4) of the Administration Act 1992.

Subsection (6) defines the purposes for which information supplied under this section can be used.

These are purposes connected with social security, child support or war pensions; or purposes connected with employment or training. It also defines “social security information” for the purposes of this section, as information relating to social security, child support or war pensions. This is consistent with the definition in section 3 of the Social Security Act 1998.

Subsection (7) further defines “purposes connected with employment or training” to make it clear that such purposes can include assisting and encouraging people to enhance their employment prospects.

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