Headlines: September 10th, 2008

The Information Commissioner’s Office has issued new sets of guidance for local authorities clarifying points of the Data Protection Act. The ICO is urging councils to consider the implications of the Act when they publish documents relating to council meetings and it has set out further help for local authority staff dealing with housing records.

The first guidance highlights the need for councils to be aware of Data Protection issues when publishing agendas, reports and minutes that might include personal information. It follows recent changes to the Local Government Act which have led to a number of authorities asking for clarification on how the changes affect their obligations under the Data Protection Act.

The guidance explains what steps authorities need to take to ensure they comply with the Act and advises councils on safeguarding personal information when they disclose details of meetings under the Freedom of Information Act. Phil Jones, Assistant Commissioner at the ICO, said, “Transparency in local government is central to improving public trust in councils. Publishing details of council meetings is an important part of this. However, councils must ensure that they safeguard individuals’ privacy by keeping personal information confidential where appropriate.”

Meanwhile the ICO has issued new guidelines for council staff who regularly handle requests under the Data Protection Act for local authority housing records. Tenants have a right to ask for information relating to themselves and in some circumstances about property they live in. The guidance, ‘Subject access requests and local authority housing records’, includes advice on how to deal with requests for records which contain information about a third party.