Data protection - legal restrictions on sharing personal information with you about your child

It is important to remember that if your child is aged 18 or over, they are adults in the eyes of the law. As such, their privacy is protected by data protection legislation. Your child will give their university or college information about themselves as part of being a student of the institution. Some of this will be routine stuff. Some of it may be more sensitive depending on how things go. The institution will be heavily constrained in any discussions it has with you about your child, because staff are carefully briefed about their data protection responsibilities in law. That you are their parent makes no difference as far as the law is concerned.  

The same applies to other accommodation providers and any personal information they hold on your daughter or son. There may be occasions when you feel that you would like to discuss matters relating to your child with accommodation providers. To be clear, they have no responsibility or obligation to disclose to you any personal information relating to your child or any other relatives, even if you're the one paying the rent or ancillary charges.

To ensure providers are operating within the law, your child needs to give written consent for them to speak to you about their personal affairs.

The larger the organisation the clearer their data protection policy will be. Colleges and larger housing providers may have forms for your child to fill in or you may ask your child to write a short letter giving their consent to have their personal information disclosed to you. Either way the letter has to be sent and signed by your child and has to state clearly what they want the third party to disclose to you and what they don't.

If you are waiting for this to be sorted out, it can be helpful for the provider to explain their policies and procedures relating to the area of concern (e.g. finding out when payments need to be made, what the arrears collection system is or deposit return arrangements). Do not be dismissive of this. It can help you work out where your child is in the process or provide you with a clue that your child has not given you the full facts. For example, you discover your child has a solicitor's letter for non-payment of rent and you may think the accommodation provider is being outrageously harsh in sending this. If you look at the provider's rent collection procedures, you will realise that providers will have sent a number of letters, reminders and requests to discuss and have been forced to recover the money in this way because you child has put their head in the sand and ignored the matter. Your child may also be reluctant to share this with you, because they have spent the rgave them on other things, or they feel that they should now, as an adult, deal with their own problems and mistakes.

No contact from your child?

If you have been unable to contact your child for a period of time and you are concerned the provider may be happy to contact them and ask them to contact you. The provider may not call you back but focus on asking your child to get in touch with you directly. If your child has not contacted you within 5 days, you could contact the provider again, informing them that you still have had no contact from your child. The provider may then be able to confirm that the message has been passed on, your child has been seen, and he/she is aware you are waiting to hear from them.

You may be concerned about your child’s health or well-being or even concerned about their behaviour or the behaviour of other people around them. Remember, the provider will not be able to discuss any details relating to your child without your child’s written permission. If you are deeply concerned, there may be other agencies more suitable such as the Police.

Sometimes, young adults are deliberately fleeing violence or a difficult situation so please understand why the provider cannot inform you of personal or sensitive details (such as their address, contact numbers or lifestyle choices). It is however more often the case that they are having such a good time with friends that they have completely forgotten about worried parents at home.

Serious Illness

The only time when third parties can disclose information to you without consent is when it is in the vital interests of your child e.g. information relating to a medical condition may be disclosed in a life or death situation.

Remember; do not put accommodation providers under pressure to discuss your child's affairs over the telephone. This is not fair to the person you are talking to as you will be asking them to break the law and may not be what your child wants. If your child has said they would sign a disclosure form or send a letter and they haven't it may be because they don't want your help in this matter. Talk to them about this.

Children under the Age of 18

The above only applies if your child is 18 or over. If your child is under 18 there will be specific arrangements that you may have entered into with the accommodation supplier.