Childhood abuse charity Open Secret in data clash with Scottish government

The charity claims it has been warned it will lose funding if it does not hand over confidential data, but the Scottish government denies this

A charity that runs a counselling service for survivors of childhood abuse says it is in danger of closing after refusing to hand over client data to the Scottish government.

Open Secret, which has received £200,000 a year from the Scottish government for the past eight years, has been told its funding will be in danger if it does not share confidential details about the people using its services, although the government denies this.

Janine Rennie, the charity’s chief executive, told Third Sector she believed there was a substantial risk of beneficiaries taking their own lives if the service was no longer available, but the charity would lose their trust if it handed over the data.

The data was requested ahead of a change to the way in which Scotland’s abuse survivor support service is funded. According to a Scottish government spokesman, having the data would help to ensure consistency in the service.

The Scottish government has set up the Survivors Support Fund, a £13.5m programme that will run from September until 2020. According to Rennie, it has warned the charity that it might not be considered to receive funding from the scheme if it does not comply with the request for data.

An email from a civil servant to the charity last month, seen by Third Sector, said the charity’s contract had always said clearly what data the government expected, but "what has been received so far has fallen short of what is expected and, indeed, required".

The email said the charity’s failure to provide the data "will have an impact on Open Secret’s preparedness for being able to provide a service" under the new arrangement, which could "create hurdles to Open Secret’s eligibility to receive further funding".

Rennie said that in previous years the charity had provided an overall risk assessment and collated data that allowed the government to evaluate the charity’s provision, which had always been accepted.

In February, she said, the government asked for basic information such as the gender, location and age of each client and what service they were accessing. The charity agreed to this and supplied the data.

"Then in July they came with this massive spreadsheet asking for different things, including more details of the kind of services clients have had and whether they were a risk," she said.

Rennie said the charity was concerned that this data might not be anonymous because it would be passed through an external personal outcomes coordinator, working for the Survivors Support Fund, who would have enough information to identify individual clients.

Many clients would be distressed about being labelled a risk, particularly given that the data did not distinguish between risks of self-harm and risks to others, she said.

A Scottish government spokesman said the change had been made so that the government could provide an expanded support system.

"To ensure consistency of care, we asked groups already working with us to share anonymous data," he said.

"We have never asked for any information that would compromise data protection."

He said Open Secret would have the opportunity to apply for funding when the new fund opened in September, but that the charity had refused to engage with the process.

Rennie denied this was the case, saying she had attended a meeting about the new application process but, unlike other charities at the meeting, she had not been contacted with further instructions on how to access the fund.

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