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Data Protection Act 1998 - guidance for social services

  • Last modified date:
    23 November 2010

The Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA) came into force on 1 March 2000. The purpose of this guidance to local authority social services is to provide information about how the DPA works in relation to giving access to social work records.

The guidance also gives:

  • guidance on good practice in compiling and maintaining records. Authorities having well-maintained records will find it easier to comply with the requirements of the Act;
  • advice on the need for policies covering the retention and disposal of other records.
  • guidance on confidentiality and social services records;

The DPA repealed the Data Protection Act 1984. It also repealed the Access to Personal Files Act 1987 and most of the Access to Health Records Act 1990. The effect is to create structure around the governance on identifiable information about living individuals.  Some of the DPA's provisions are subject to transitional arrangements. The DPA provides individuals with a right of access to information held about them. The responsibilities of the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) (formerly the Data Protection Registrar) are extended, not only in terms of scope but also functions.

Section 1 - Introduction and enforcement
The ICO has published guidance on how the Act may be interpreted, entitled The Data Protection Act 1998 - An Introduction, which can be ordered from the ICO at Wycliffe House, Water Lane, Wilmslow, Cheshire SK9 5AF or through the information line on 01625 545 745. It is also available on the internet

Section 2 provides a glossary of terms used in this guidance, including a list of definitions from the DPA.

Section 3 of this guidance provides good practice guidance on record keeping.

Section 4 gives details about the DPA and its implementation.

Section 5 deals with the rights of access and rights of appeal under the DPA, by the people who are the subject of the information, in relation to personal information that authorities hold for the purpose of their social services functions.

Section 6 deals with confidentiality and the circumstances in which people other than data subjects may be given access to personal information held by an authority.

On the date that this guidance came into effect it replaced the following guidance which is withdrawn:
LAC(87)10 - Data Protection (Subject Access Modification) (Social Work) Order 1987
LAC(88)16 - Data Protection Act 1984 Social Work etc. Orders: Individual's Right of Access to Information
LAC(88)17 - Personal Social Services: Confidentiality of Personal Information
LAC(89)2 - Access to Personal Files Act 1987 Access to Personal Files (Social Services) Regulations 1989
LASSL(98)16 - Data Protection Act 1998
LASSL(99)16 - Data Protection Act 1998: Draft Guidance


This document is not meant to be a substitute for the Act itself, and in cases of doubt authorities should consult their legal advisers. Enquiries about the general application of the DPA should be made to the Data Protection Commissioner (details given in paragraph 1.2 above)

Other enquiries may be addressed, in writing, to
Digital Information and Health Policy
NHS Connecting for Health
2nd Floor west
Prince’s Exchange
Princes Square
Leeds LS1 4HY

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