Sharing information, joint working and communication
Guidance for frontline housing staff and contractors
- It is important to share some information to keep people safe.
- Your duty of confidentiality does not stop you from sharing important information to keep people safe.
- The Data Protection Act does not stop you from sharing important information to keep people safe.
- Your organisation must have a whistleblowing policy.
Why is understanding confidentiality important?
Confidentiality is an important principle that enables people who may be at risk of abuse to feel safe in sharing their concerns. However, sharing information with the right people at the right time is vital to good safeguarding practice. Any member of staff can contact either the police or the local safeguarding lead for advice, without necessarily giving an individual’s personal details, if they are unsure whether a safeguarding referral would be appropriate.
What are your responsibilities?
- Don’t give assurances about absolute confidentiality.
- Try to gain consent to share information as necessary.
- Consider the person’s mental capacity to consent and seek assistance if you are uncertain.
- Make sure that others are not put at risk by information being kept confidential – is there a wider public interest, could your action prevent a crime?
- Don’t put management or organisational interests before safety.
- Share information on a ‘need to know’ basis.
- Record decision-making about information that is shared.
A person’s choice should be respected unless one or more of the following applies: 
- very high risk to the individual
- coercion is involved
- other people are at risk
- the alleged abuser has care and support needs and may also be at risk
- the victim lacks the mental capacity to make a decision about their safety
- a serious crime has been committed
- staff are implicated in the crime.
The basic principles
Any personal information should be shared on the basis that it is:
- necessary for the purpose for which it is being shared
- shared only with those who have a need for it
- accurate and up to date
- shared securely and in a timely fashion
- not kept for longer than necessary for the original purpose.
‘Vital interest’ is a term used in the Data Protection Act 1998 to permit sharing of information where it is critical to prevent serious harm or distress, or in life-threatening situations. If the only person that would suffer if the information is not shared is the subject of that information, and they have mental capacity to make a decision about it, then sharing it may not be justified.
The Crime and Disorder Act 1998
Any person, including employees of registered social landlords (RSLs), may disclose information to a relevant authority under Section 115 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, ‘where disclosure is necessary or expedient for the purposes of the Act (reduction and prevention of crime and disorder)’. 
The Caldicott principles
The sharing of information in health and social care is guided by a set of principles.  These ‘Caldicott’ principles are also of help to housing organisations.
- Justify the purpose(s).
- Don’t use personal confidential data unless it is absolutely necessary.
- Use the minimum personal confidential data necessary for purpose.
- Access to personal confidential data should be on a strict need-to-know basis.
- Everyone with access to personal confidential data should be aware of their responsibilities.
- Comply with the law.
- The duty to share information can be as important as the duty to protect patient confidentiality.
Individuals have a right to respect for their private life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. This is not an absolute right and can be overridden if necessary and in accordance with the law. This means that any interference must be justified and for a particular purpose: ‘for example, protection of a person’s health, prevention of crime, protection of the rights and freedoms of others’. 
The case of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman, who were murdered by their school caretaker, Ian Huntley, demonstrated that misunderstandings about the Data Protection Act can lead to tragic consequences. In this case, information was not shared for fear that the law might be broken. The Bichard Inquiry report found a lack of effective review of intelligence information by the police, and flawed sharing information between police and social services.
The serious case review concerning Steven Hoskin stated: ‘support officers were not seen as professional by social care colleagues ... a support officer made a referral to adult social care and was asked to leave the resultant meeting, even though she was an alerter and had a lot of understanding of the situation ... housing is outside the loop at present’. 
A common theme of two Surrey serious case reviews was concern about the lack of information shared with housing providers prior to the placement of people with care and support needs. In one ‘there was a lack of history relating to [them] that meant that the risks inherent in placing them together in a supported housing setting were not fully appreciated’.  In the other, ‘there was considerable concern amongst members of the SCR panel that an individual could potentially have a serious mental health and forensic history and pose a threat to the community, but that housing might know little or nothing about this’. 
The serious case review of a 58-year-old man with mental and physical health problems, living in a housing association bungalow, stated that ‘there was an absence of processes through which housing providers could be involved in discussions and monitoring of the situation’. 
The principles of the Data Protection Act (Information Commissioner’s Office).
Data sharing code of practice (Information Commissioner’s Office).
SCIE Report 50: Safeguarding adults at risk of harm: A legal guide for practitioners (SCIE 2011) Chapter 5, Information sharing and disclosure.
Public Concern at Work – whistleblowing charity that can provide independent and confidential advice to workers who are unsure whether or how to raise a public interest concern.