More people asking to know what Hertfordshire County Council knows about them

As part of the Data Protection Act 1998, anyone has the right to access the personal data that is held about them by another organisation

More residents than ever before are asking Hertfordshire County Council to let them see the personal information they hold about them.

As part of the Data Protection Act 1998, anyone has the right to access the personal data that is held about them by another organisation.

And data relating to the number of requests being processed by the council is due to be presented to a meeting of the resources and performance cabinet panel, on Wednesday (June 9).

Hertfordshire County Council

That data shows that the number of requests being put to the county council has reached record levels.

And the report for the panel suggests that Covid-related lockdowns may have increased the demand for the service.

“Demand for access to personal data has been increasing since 2018 and for this reporting year specifically from the end of Q1 20/21,” says the report.

“Periods of lockdown have created a greater demand and the current quarter total of 191 requests is the highest ever; of these 70 were received in March so there is no sign of reduction.”

Requests for personal information held by an organisation – known as ‘subject access requests’ – can be made in writing or verbally or even through social media.

And they can be used by individuals to find out the personal information held about them, how it is being used, who it is shared with and where the data came from.

There are some circumstances – where an exemption or restriction applies, or where the request is excessive – in which the requests can be refused.

But in most circumstances a ‘subject access request’ – for which there should not normally be a fee – should usually be completed within a month.

According to the latest county council data, between January and March just 90 per cent of the requests received full responses within the required 30 days.

And the report states: “Requests have also become more complex, resulting in many requiring an extension within the permitted statutory period of up to three months.

“But dealing with an increased workload of complex requests creates its own pressure and has a knock-on effect on capacity to respond to more straightforward requests.”

Meanwhile the report also points to the ‘very high’ number of requests for information using Freedom of Information (FOI) legislation – and the time taken to deal with them.

It reports that there were 474 FOI requests put to the county council, in the three-month period between January and March this year.

And 465 of them – that’s 98 per cent – received a full response within the required 20 working days.

In the previous three month period, all FOI requests were responded to within 20 days.

“Numbers of Freedom of Information (FOI) requests have remained very high since Q2 2020/21,” says the report.

“The increased numbers of FOIs have been compounded by more queries from requesters resulting in increased correspondence and time taken to bring a request to an agreed conclusion.

“Staff working remotely have experienced more difficulty in accessing the database used for recording and monitoring requests.

“Some delays reflect pressures in other departments where individuals have been unable to meet response deadlines.”

The resources and performance cabinet panel is due to meet virtually on Wednesday (June 9), at 2pm. The meeting can be viewed online on the Hertfordshire County Council website.