Complaining about the service you receive when requesting access to your information

If you make a request to access your records related to your time in the care system, you might not be happy with the response you get. On this page you will find information on who you might complain to and how.

Why you might want to complain

Steps to make before making a formal complaint

Legal obstacles to obtaining your information

Contacting the Information Commissioner

What happens if the Information Commissioner’s Office investigates my complaint?

What about legal action and financial compensation?

Why you might want to complain

There are many reasons why you may want to complain about how your personal information from your time in the care system has been managed.

For example, you may find that an organisation:

  • Does not respond quickly
  • Claims not to have any information about you
  • Provides some information but with parts blacked out

Information may also be incorrect and need correcting (rectification), or you may feel it should not be retained any longer and so should be destroyed.

If the organisation doesn’t agree to correct or destroy the information it holds on you, you may wish raise a complaint.

Steps to take before making a formal complaint

The ombudsman for Data Protection is the Information Commissioner (ICO), but before you make a formal complaint, the ICO will expect you to have given the organisation you are dealing with the opportunity to address your concerns.

For example:

  • If nothing has been found, can you provide any additional information which will help locate your records?
  • If parts of your records are redacted (blacked out), can you ask the organisation to review their decisions to redact information, taking into account what you already know?

To aid you with contacting the organization you can find easy to use example letters on the ICO website that will help you make complaints about an organisation concerning your origin search – for example one highlighting your concern that they have not handled your personal information properly.

While the review is underway you may choose to let the organisation know that you are considering making a formal complaint to the Information Commissioner.

Be aware that while an organisation should listen to your requests, there may be legal reasons why they do not do what you want.

For example, an organisation may not be able to:

  • Give you information relating to other people
  • Destroy information if there are legal requirements to keep it

Contacting the Information Commissioner

If you’re still unhappy after giving an organisation a chance to address your concerns, you can ask the ICO to investigate your case.

It’s important to report your concerns quickly, as the ICO will normally only investigate if you report your concerns within three months of your last contact with the organisation.

There is no cost involved in asking for an ICO investigation but the ICO can only investigate matters relating to Data Protection law (your personal information and access to it for instance) and not any wider concerns you may have.

If you’re unsure if the ICO can help you, you can ask for advice about making a complaint – or whether you’re likely to have a case – by calling its helpline on 0303 123 1113 or via live chat online

To make a complaint, simply fill in the ICO’s online form or write a letter setting out your concerns.

In either case, you should provide as much detail as possible and submit any correspondence/emails between you and the organisation you have been dealing with.

Although you may be upset about the way your information is being managed, you’re likely to get a better hearing for your case if you communicate factually and not personally about the administrators involved.

The address for posting a complaint is:

Information Commissioner’s Office
Wycliffe House
Water Lane

If you’re posting a letter containing any information you would be concerned about losing, make sure you send it registered delivery.

What happens if the Information Commissioner’s Office investigates my complaint?

The ICO will often try to resolve a complaint informally.

Based on the case you have presented, the ICO may discuss the complaint with you and, if they don’t feel the organisation is at fault, suggest it is withdrawn. Alternatively, the ICO may give an organisation the opportunity to review their decision.

If the organisation doesn’t change its decision at this point and/or you’re still not satisfied, the key information which forms part of the case will be reviewed by the ICO. Please note that the ICO do have large case loads and so it can take a long time for the ICO to deal with your case. Unfortunately you will need to be patient – although if there is a reason why the case may merit urgent investigation then you should flag this with the ICO.

If the ICO then agrees with your case, it may write to the organisation asking it to sort out the problem with directions on how to do so.

Where the case is very serious, the ICO may issue an enforcement notice and impose a financial penalty on the organisation. You won’t be offered financial compensation under this process, but hopefully will get the outcome you desire – for instance accessing information or getting it changed or destroyed.

If you’re not happy with the action taken by the ICO, you can bring a case to the courts – although doing so is rare.

A court can require information be released to you and can also award compensation for any damage or distress you have been caused.

If you choose to take this route, the court will want to see all the steps you have taken and properly understand your complaint.

It’s recommended that you seek legal advice before taking a case to court.

You can get details of solicitors from the Law Society. You should be aware, however, that you will be charged for any advice provided and no legal aid is available for data protection cases.

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