TRUST release full text of complaint to Data Protection Commissioner about people who are homeless being forced to trade highly personal information for services they are entitled to as of right.
Mr. Billy Hawkes
Data Protection Commissioner
Office of the Data Protection Commission
25th July 2007
Dear Mr. Hawkes
We meet people everyday who are homeless as we have been providing health and social services in Trust since 1975. We have been concerned for sometime that when people now seek help from any of the various services funded by the Homeless Agency they are requested to provide a considerable amount of highly personal information. We believe this poses a real risk that their rights may be undermined or violated, especially as this information maybe stored in computerised data bases and shared by various service providers.
We are very concerned because the information sought, which is both highly sensitive and deeply personal, could prove very damaging if elicited in an insensitive and unprofessional way by relatively unskilled staff where the interviewees may suffer from serious mental or psychological problems (especially where the agencies concerned may have no right to seek such information).
I attach for your information a twenty eight page personal survey form circulated some time ago (Holistic Needs Assessment) by the Homeless Agency. I understand some agencies are using all or parts of this type of document in the process of eliciting the very personal and sensitive information referred to and we understand information harvesting of this nature is necessary to ensure they continue to receive their grants.
On an almost daily basis we hear that people needing even basic services are being subjected to in-depth interviews with a view to completing the kind of survey/research forms outlined above and it appears that this exercise amounts to trading information to get a service which in most instances people are entitled to as of right. In fact, even when people seek information about services that are available, to even get that information they may find themselves having to provide the kind of personal information described above.
This raises very serious questions which are not being addressed.
· Is proper care being taken to ensure that informed consent is obtained from people, who in most instances maybe highly vulnerable and suffer from
mental and psychological problems? Is getting people to sign forms sufficient where they may not understand what they doing? (In other words, they have no choice or they do not get a service?)
- What steps are taken to ensure that staff are properly trained and made aware of the rights of the people who they subject to highly personal and in-depth interviews?
- What steps are taken to ensure that all of the information gathered is obtained consistent with the Data Protection Act?
- Why is this data being collected in some instances by people who have little or no knowledge of the complexities of homelessness?
- Why are medical records routinely demanded by staff running services for people who are homeless when such a demand would not be made of other citizens in similar situations i.e. when they seek assistance from similar types of State services?
- Why are details of prison records and the psychiatric history of individual applicants sought together with information about their families when such information may not be necessary?
- From anecdotal evidence it is clear that as people are barred from different service providers on the basis of alleged incidents in other centres, it appears that computerised data bases are being employed. Again, what steps are taken to ensure that any information placed in such data bases about an individual are not libellous, and where offences are alleged, that due process and natural justice have been complied with to ensure that their rights are protected?
From the foregoing you will appreciate life for people in Ireland who become homeless can be extremely difficult and almost hard to imagine. From what we are told by the people we meet everyday many feel under undue pressure to provide highly personal information and this is adding to their misery and isolation.
We would like to meet with you to discuss this serious matter in more detail as there are no real concerns being raised, except by community welfare officers charged with the responsibility to provide accommodation.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Director & Co-Founder