St Mungo's apologises for sharing client information with Home Office without consent

One of the charity's outreach teams carried on sharing information about homeless EU citizens with the Home Office after the organisation changed its policy to prevent this practice

St Mungo's at work
St Mungo's at work

St Mungo’s has admitted that one of its outreach teams continued to share information about homeless EU citizens with the Home Office without the people's consent, despite the charity changing its policy against the practice.

The findings of an internal review carried out by St Mungo’s, which have been published today, also accept that the charity failed to adequately communicate to all of its outreach teams its new policy, which bans the sharing of information with the Home Office without consent except in circumstances where the charity is legally obliged to do so.

The review report says that St Mungo’s had in place an agreement with the Home Office between 2010 and 2016 whereby some of its outreach teams worked with the department to move homeless EU citizens off the street and into alternative arrangements.

As a result of this arrangement, it says, information was shared with the Home Office about homeless EU citizens without those persons' consent.

The approach taken by the charity was lawful at the time under data protection laws and recognised as good practice by London Councils, which represents the 32 London boroughs and the City of London, and the Greater London Authority, the report says.

In May 2016, the government changed policy to regard rough sleeping as a breach of EU treaty rights around freedom of movement, and the report says this meant that homeless EU citizens were more likely to be detained and removed without having an opportunity to find alternative arrangements.

The report says the charity then decided that working with the Home Office should be a last resort and information would no longer be shared without consent.

Despite this change of policy, one of the charity’s 18 outreach teams continued sharing data without consent between July 2016 and February 2017.

The charity accepts that as a result of this its public explanations of the change of approach during this period did not accurately reflect what every St Mungo’s outreach team was doing.

The charity’s report says the policy change should have been followed up with new guidance and a migrant strategy, but these were not formally signed off until March 2017.

The report says that the charity executive team "recognises that the delay in its efforts to develop and communicate a clear, unified approach contributed to this situation".

The charity also accepts that it should have done more to ensure outreach teams were aware of the change in policy, and that it was consistently applied.

Complaints about the charity’s work made to the Charity Commission and the Information Commissioner’s Office were not upheld by either of the two regulators.

Howard Sinclair, chief executive of St Mungo’s, said: "There are important lessons for us from the review.

"We could have done more to explain the change in approach to internal teams and should have been quicker to put the change in approach into formal policies and procedures.

"The executive team takes full responsibility for this and is sorry it happened. We take organisational responsibility for this, have learned from it and have introduced new procedures to ensure a consistency of approach going forward.

"Our policy now is clear: we don’t share information with the Home Office without the client’s full and informed consent unless we are legally obliged to do so."

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