How to get hold of your records
This page helps you with accessing records relating to your time in care and outlines some of the factors to consider when doing so.
Requesting your records
Requesting your records from a local authority or voluntary organisation is a straightforward process, but making the decision to access records can be emotionally difficult. It can take months or even years to prepare yourself to do it.
Once you have made the decision to make a request you can follow these steps.
- Find out which local authority or organisations might hold records about you. This can be the most difficult part, especially if you were in care in lots of different places. Some people find it useful to write down what they remember about when and where they were in care into a timeline. This can help to decide where to start your search.
- Contact the local authority or organisation to ask for your records. Information about who to contact should be on their website, but if you’re not sure you can call or email their general enquiries team. You can also make your request in writing (by email or post) or simply ask over the phone. The Care Leavers’ Association has some letter templates that you can use to make your request. If you think more than one organisation holds your records you can make several requests at once or one at a time.
- You may be asked for identification, to confirm who you are. Some organisations might ask you to show them ID to confirm your identity. This is to protect your privacy and confidentiality. They should let you know they need this as soon as they receive your request and will tell you what ID to provide. If you have a passport or a driving licence these are good options, but other evidence should also be accepted. The Data Protection legislation makes it clear that requests for ID should be reasonable and flexible, and shouldn’t be used to limit your access. If you are already in touch with an organisation and they know you they may not ask at all.
- You should receive a confirmation letter or email, acknowledging your request. Most organisations will send you a message to let you know that they have received your request and are working on it. They have 1 month to send your records to you from the date you make the request. However, they can extend this to 3 months if your request is complex. Care records are nearly always complex, as files are often very long and detailed. It is best to expect to wait up to 3 months, but the organisation should tell you if there is going to be a delay. If you have not heard anything within 1 month you should contact the organisation for an update.
- The organisation may contact you for further information. Some organisations may wish to speak with you to find out a little bit more about your request. It is up to you how much information you want to provide. Some care leavers find it helpful to have a chat with the person who is managing their request, and some organisations also like to have a chat with the care leaver as it can help them know a little bit more about you and understand your care experience and present circumstances. You may also be asked to specify what you want to know. You can do this if you like, but you don’t have to. It is your right to request all records about yourself, no matter how many there are.
- You will receive your records. Most records are received through the post. They may arrive unannounced on your doorstep and the way they are packaged or presented will vary. In some cases you may be given the option to see your records for the first time with a person. It is up to you whether you want to do this. Either way, you are entitled to copies to keep for yourself. You can read more on our page about the impact of receiving your care records.
It may take longer than you think
Organisations have up to three months to send your records to you according to the Data Protection Act. However, in reality it often takes longer. Care records are long and complex and organisations may have many requests at once. They may suggest sending your records in batches over a longer period of time. At the very least they should tell you how long it will take. If you haven’t heard anything within one month of making your request you should ask for an update. If you feel that an organisation is withholding information from you or is taking too long, you can make a complaint to the local authority and to the Information Commissioner’s Office.
Receiving your records can be emotional and difficult. Sometimes information may have been ‘redacted’ or withheld and it might be useful to look at some examples to understand why this might be. You may also need some support to process and understand what you have received.
If you are not happy with your records and the information you have received, for any reason, you have the right to appeal or complain to the organisation who provided them.