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Charity may have shared rough sleepers’ data without consent, watchdog finds

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Author: Diane Taylor

The information commissioner has found that it is likely that a leading homelessness charity passed key information about migrant rough sleepers to Home Office enforcement teams and may well have done so without their consent.

Some of these vulnerable rough sleepers were subsequently rounded up against their will and deported by Home Office officials.

The charity, St Mungo’s, has previously denied that it passed on either the locations where rough sleepers bedded down or personal information about them to Home Office enforcement teams without their consent.

It has now confirmed it is conducting an internal review of its data-sharing policies relating to non-UK nationals over a period of several years.

In response to a complaint from the Public Interest Law Unit (PILU) about St Mungo’s dealings with migrant rough sleepers, the Information Commissioner’s Office said: “It appears likely that St Mungo’s passed locations of rough sleepers to the Home Office.”

It added: “It appears feasible that the personal data of rough sleepers may have been passed from St Mungo’s outreach teams to the Home Office without the consent of the individuals concerned.”

It cited undated internal guidance from St Mungo’s that stated there were times when there was a public interest defence to sharing information about individual migrant rough sleepers with outside agencies without their consent.

St Mungo’s has previously acknowledged passing on details but said it did so when people wished to return home. In a statement, the charity said it was finalising an internal review of the practices.

The charity’s website says of its policy when working with rough sleepers: “We gradually build up trusting relationships, working with people to offer them routes out of homelessness and towards recovery … Where appropriate, we assist people with reconnection – helping them to return to their home towns in the UK and abroad.”

The investigation by the information commissioner focused on the period before 14 December 2017. On that date the Home Office policy on migrant rough sleepers was halted after the high court ruled it to be unlawful and discriminatory.

The government is to pay hundreds of thousands of pounds in compensationto some of those identified during such patrols as a result of the court ruling. In the year to May 2017, 698 homeless EU nationals were targeted and removed from the UK.

The complaint from the PILU to the information commissioner focused on how St Mungo’s handled private and sensitive data about its migrant rough sleeper clients and the impact of the charity’s role on the unlawful arrest, detention and removal of some of these rough sleepers by the Home Office.

A PILU spokesman said: “The information commissioner’s report is significant. It confirms the sharing of data between St Mungo’s and the Home Office immigration enforcement teams, something that St Mungo’s has vehemently denied. There is an ethical question about whether St Mungo’s compromised their independence as a charity and undermined their reputation.”

The information commissioner found that because St Mungo’s cited a public interest defence there was no breach of data protection rules.

The charity’s policies changed after the December 2017 court ruling and the information commissioner said St Mungo’s “current information rights practices do not raise any concerns with us”.

A St Mungo’s spokesperson said: “We are pleased that the ICO has concluded that the current information rights practice of St Mungo’s does not raise any concerns with them. To reiterate, our policy is that we do not share information about individuals with the Home Office, except when an individual has given their consent, or in situations where people are at significant risk to themselves or someone else.”

Source: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/sep/21/st-mungos-is-likely-to-have-given-home-office-data-on-rough-sleepers-information-commissioner

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