Is it legal for Cornwall Council to handover data to a private company?

There have been many people in Cornwall who have received letters from Capita on behalf of Cornwall Council as part of the review into the council tax single person discount (SPD). I have been contacted by not just  my own electoral residents, but others too highlighting their concern in receiving these letters.

In their questions, they asked if Cornwall Council has the legal right to share personal information with a third-party like Capita. It is a very good question, so I asked the Deputy CEO of Cornwall Council. I am grateful for his swift reply to my questions.

The response I got was detailed and it looks like many other people have contacted the council asking the same question.  To answer the question can a council share information like this? The simple answer is yes, it can. For those who are happy with that answer, you can stop reading. For those who want to know more, then continue readings.

The law allows councils to contract out certain functions.  Ascertaining entitlement to discounts is covered in Section 12 of the Local Authorities (Contracting Out of Tax Billing, Collection and Enforcement Functions) Order 1996.

The Council has recently completed an exercise with the Audit Commission to identify those who may be inappropriately claiming a Council Tax SPD. This work has revealed approximately 1000 actual cases where a discount has been inappropriately granted and as a result the Council is in the process of recovering in the region of £440,000. You cannot argue that this is good news?

While 1000 people now correctly paying the correct amount could be called a success, it was somewhat limited as it concentrated on matching only electoral register data against council tax records. Therefore Government recommended that councils need to do more in this area and have suggested the need to engage with credit reference agencies with the view of maximizing the detection of inappropriate claims.

This enhanced service can only be provided by a credit reference agency, either directly or via a third-party provider who partners with one of the credit reference agencies, and therefore an external provider needed to be sought. Hence Capita’s involvement.

Now another worry raised, is can Capita be trusted with this information?  Well, Capita Business Services Ltd holds the ISO 27001 accreditation for Information Security Management which has been accredited by BSI. So at least they can be fined a lot of money if they break any data protection rules.

Another question that was asked is why no SAE was included with the letter. I am told Cornwall Council has a standing policy not to provide reply paid envelopes going back to 2009.

So there you have it, a council can outsource this work. You might not like it, or like receiving the letter, but you cannot accuse the council of acting ultra-vires.


  • Patsy Stevens

    LIBRARIES were started and given to the people to enable and encourage reading, learning etc for free by philosophers, moneyed people so many years ago, Today they also loan, videos, tapes and teach computing etc to people who would not otherwise be able to get to and/or pay for classes tuition; they also provide poetry and reading sessions. Truro has even developed a community garden in part of its CP. Its a disgrace to even think about out sourcing libraries and their many sided services. Patsy

  • i download books

    Patsy – perhaps some of the time you seem to spend in
    libraries could be utilised to address the idea of relevance, in
    that your post has nothing to do with Andrew’s blog. Unless of
    course you think that text is data and you think that “handing over
    data to a private company” means handing over the libraries books –
    in which case I despair.

  • A benefits assessor

    It wouldn’t have been so bad if the letters made sense. How
    does one answer the questions when there is a full time student
    resident and therefore exempt. The wording of the questionnaire is
    confusing, even to the revenues staff I asked.

  • Cassandra

    Whilst I accept, with reluctance, that the Council may have
    the right to share my information for legitimate purposes, the Data
    Protection Code of Practice states, ( p.18) ‘The general rule in
    the DPA is that individuals should, at least, be aware that
    personal data about them has been, or is going to be, shared – even
    if their consent for the sharing is not needed’. I am not aware of
    any publicity around the Council’s decision to share the fact that
    I am a woman living on my own in Cornwall with a company about whom
    I know nothing and have never had any contact with. My reading of
    the DPA leads me to believe that this information should have been
    available. Perhaps it is hidden away in some remote and dusty
    corner of the unnavigationable website, where I can’t find it! For
    me there are a number of other concerns (apart from not including
    an SAE). There is no company address, only a telephone number which
    I hung up on after an interminable wait for a response. The return
    address is a PO Box and the letter is signed by a Mr. K. Brett. Who
    is he, what is his job title, and who does he work for? The letter
    gave no clue. This is a letter that could have been sent by anyone
    – in fact at first I thought it was a scam. I ended up phoning the
    Council, who were very helpful, but I wonder how much this has cost
    in terms of staff having to answer high levels of queries from
    concerned residents. God help us if the JV goes ahead as I suspect
    this shoddy and unprofessional approach may become the norm as the
    council chases the cheapest option at all costs.

  • Andrew Wallis

    You make a good point about it being a scam. I know the council has received many calls about the letter and if it was genuine.

    I have not seen the letter, or received one, even thought I get the discount. So I cannot comment on how it is formatted.

    It would have been far better if the letter should of at least looked like it came from the council.

    The first I heard about the letter is when I received inquires about it.

  • JMP

    I would have thought it obvious that Patsy Stevens was just
    human and made a mistake and put her comment on the wrong post. I
    can’t see any relevance in the comment from ‘i download books’ on
    the post anyway, and how blantant is that user name ‘i download
    books’ given Patsy’s comment, why do some people appear to take
    pleasure in being so nasty to others. Can’t see what the fuss is
    about the enquiry letter, bet people would be quick to fill it in
    or get someone to help them or do it for them, buy a stamp and
    answer the questions if it was to claim a discount.’

  • Matt

    I too received a letter about single persons discount and
    whilst I was unaware the process had been outsourced to Capita, I
    also was glad the SPD was being challenged as I have nothing to
    hide and even it catches 1% of fraudulent claimants it is worth

  • worried worker

    I live alone, however an old friend of mine pays for my
    broadband as he was fed up with my lack of internet whenever he
    visited…I simply cannot wait to spend hours on the phone trying
    to explain this to someone halfway up country.

  • Gill Martin

    Although I am single I do not qualify for the SPD on my
    council tax as I have my elderly mother living with me. I think
    investigation into the discount is good as it will send out the
    message that abuse of the system is not acceptable, and
    additionally if the council can make savings or re coup any money
    this way then that is in my opinion a good thing. However, I think
    the method they are using is far from ideal as there are a lot of
    circumstances that may not be covered by the questions in the
    letter. Why dont the council adopt the TV licenceing policy and
    just pay a visit to any one that they suspect may have a partner
    hidden away in a cupboard whilst they are claiming SPD.

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