Information sharing and confidentiality

"No Secrets” is founded on the belief that matters go wrong for vulnerable adults when services do not openly share the information they have. Often it is only when the various pieces of information are put together in a Strategy Meeting that a full picture of the concerns can be seen.

The prevention of abuse and the preservation of safety is most frequently tied to the sharing of information between services in the best interests of the abused person and the prevention of criminal activity. The non-sharing of information can be seen as compounding the abuse a vulnerable adult has experienced.

Failure to share information can put individuals at serious risk.

Confidentiality is a main plank of all personal services but within the confines of Safeguarding meetings information can be safely shared. Responsible information sharing plays a key role in enabling services to protect victims of adult abuse and in extreme cases saves lives.

Articles 2 and 3 of the Human Rights Act 1998 place an obligation on public authorities to protect people’s rights to life and their freedom from torture, inhumane and degrading treatment. Meeting these obligations may necessitate lawful information sharing.

If we know that an individual who has been involved in Safeguarding processes moves to another area, and the level of concern has been significant, we have a duty to share certain information about the individual with that area.

The information that we would share could include details of all the individual and facts surrounding the Safeguarding allegations.

The organisations we might typically share with could include the Local Authority Adult Social Care Services. This sharing of information could be about either the "victim" and/or the "perpetrator" depending upon the circumstances of the case.

However, all information sharing should be done on a case by case basis.

In all cases, the worker involved should discuss the proposal to share information with, and seek approval from, their Line Manager. The reasons for sharing information, what information is shared and who this has been shared with should be recorded in observations.

The Data Protection Act 1998 talks of two types of information:

  • “Personal Data” which relates to a living individual who can be identified from that information.  It includes any expression of opinion about the individual and any implications of the intentions of any person in respect of the individual.
  • “Sensitive Data” information concerning racial or ethnic origin, physical/mental health, sexual life, alleged or committed offences.

This is the sort of information agencies are likely to need to share to support victims, conduct risk assessments and help keep the individual safe.

There is no single body of law that governs information sharing. Instead there is a legislation framework of gateways and protections.

The Department of Constitutional Affairs advocates a straightforward ’sequence of consideration’.

Lawful information sharing may proceed if the answer to the following questions is yes

  • Do you have a legal power to share information?  i.e. the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 Section 115 provides a legal power to share information to prevent crime.  This will apply to the majority of Adult Safeguarding cases.
  • Are you in compliance with Article 8 of the Human Rights Act 1998? Information Sharing may not interfere with rights under Article 8 (respect for private and family life) unless it is in accordance with the law and necessary in a democratic society in the public interest, public safety for the prevention of disorder or crime, the protection of health or the protection of rights and freedom of others.
  • Are you compliant with common law obligations of confidence? Common law requires that information may not be lawfully disclosed when given in certain circumstances of confidentiality. Disclosure of confidential information can be justified if; the individual to whom the duty of confidentiality is owed has consented to the disclosure; there is an overriding public interest in disclosure; disclosure may be required by a court order or other obligation.  If the individual who is owed confidentiality does not have the mental capacity to consent then disclosure may be made provided the assessment of their mental capacity and their best interests are described in the record of the adult safeguarding procedure.

Under the Data Protection Act information about individuals must be:

  • Fairly and lawfully processed (which includes information sharing)
  • Obtained only for one or more specific and lawful purposes and not processed in any manner incompatible with those purposes
  • Adequate, relevant and not excessive
  • Accurate and kept up to date where necessary
  • Not kept for longer than necessary
  • Processed in line with the data subjects rights
  • Secure
  • Not transferred outside the E.E.C.


As a matter of good practice services needing to share information should routinely consider getting explicit written consent or documented verbal consent to the information sharing from the person about whom the information is concerned. This will give the victim:

  • A degree of control over any decisions and processes in what may be very difficult circumstances for them
  • A greater opportunity to accept offers of advice, support and protection
  • Provide services with a strong form of protection any future challenges.

Consent must be freely given and cannot be inferred or provided under duress. When gaining consent the individual should be told clearly what the purpose of sharing information is and how it will happen (within the investigation or Safeguarding meeting).  What information will be shared and with whom. The individual should be informed of their right to refuse consent but assured they will be kept informed about the Safeguarding processes that may share the information).

  • The Caldicott Committee “Report on the review of patient identifiable information” recognises that confidential patient information may need to be disclosed without consent in certain circumstances if it is in the best interests of the patient or public and discusses in what circumstances this may be appropriate and what safeguards need to be observed.  The Caldicott principles should be applied in adult protection situations and can be summarised as follows
  • Information about the alleged abuse should be shared on a ‘need to know’ basis when it is in the best interests of the service user.
  • Confidentiality must not be confused with secrecy.
  • Informed consent should be obtained but if this is not possible and other vulnerable adults are at risk it may be necessary to over-ride the requirement.

Agencies should not give assurances of absolute confidentiality where there are concerns about abuse as in circumstances where the abuse is a criminal act or placing other vulnerable people at risk the information must be disclosed.

Refer to Appendix D Information Sharing Protocol.

This page was last updated on 4 October 2009

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