Troubled Families data sharing project announced

The government is creating a secure database allowing official researchers access to council data on tens of thousands of families.

The information will be used for a new project by the Office of National Statistics to assess the Troubled Families programme, which coordinates action and funding by multiple public services.

The Department of Communities and Local Government yesterday announced procedures allowing the comparison of progress by families who have taken part in the programme with those who have not.

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In a privacy notice, DCLG said: “DCLG will do this by combining personal data provided by local authorities about families with multiple problems with information routinely collected by government departments.

“This information will allow DCLG to find out if the programme has improved outcomes for families, such as reducing offending and truancy, improving children’s safety and families’ health, as well as getting people into work.”

The information will include names, dates of birth and postcodes, along with school attendance and attainment information, details of criminal offences, plus welfare benefits date and employment status.

Councils will pass information to Whitehall departments, which will then link it with their own data. Personal identifiers will then be removed, before the data is transferred securely to the ONS, the government said.

“The ONS researchers will then put the information from different services/government departments together to see all your information but without knowing your name or date of birth,” it said.

Only a small number of researchers at ONS will have access to the information and they will all be security checked, the notice said. The data will be kept in a secure facility, set up specifically for the project.

The government said that all information will be transferred, handled and stored in accordance with the Data Protection Act 1998, and all personal data will be destroyed by the end of 2022.

However, it is unclear how the project will comply with a requirement in the 1998 Data Protection Act that data subjects have to give their consent for their data to be processed.

The government’s note on the ONS project advises: “If you want to find out if your data is being used for this research please contact your local authority.”

In March, the government said that 118,000 families had been contacted as part of the Troubled Families programme since it launched in 2011.

Colin Marrs

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