Social Work Records

You are entitled under the Data Protection Act to see all information held about you by a local authority social services department, including unstructured information. In addition to the normal Data Protection Act exemptions, information can be withheld if disclosure would be likely to cause serious harm to your or any other person’s physical or mental health.

A parent would not normally be entitled to see a child’s records without the child’s consent. If the child is too young to consent, the parent can apply on the child’s behalf. Any information which a child has provided in the expectation that it would not be shown to the parents is exempt.

These exemptions mean that a parent who is accused of child abuse is unlikely to be given access to the child's records, or to information provided by the child but recorded on the parent's file. But the parent should be able to see other information recorded about him or herself, such as the notes of an interview or home visit, so long as disclosure would not expose the child to risk or prejudice law enforcement.

A family member caring for a mentally handicapped adult who cannot give an informed consent to their application has no explicit right of access to that person’s file, unless they are acting under a power of attorney or an order of the Court of Protection.

Information about someone else that is recorded on your file, and anything which would identify an individual who has provided information about you, will normally be exempt, unless disclosure to you is reasonable in the circumstances.

The Department of Health has issued a guidance paper, ‘Data Protection Act 1998 Guidance to Social Services’, on access to social records. It is available on the Internet at http://www.dh.gov.uk/ or by writing to:

Department of Health Publications
PO Box 777
London SE1 6XH
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