St Mungo’s has stressed the fault-findings of an internal review into its without consent information share with the Home Office on homeless EU nationals shouldn’t detract from tackling rough sleeping.
The review confirmed that though the info-share approach changed in 2016 – when the Government introduced a new policy which regarded rough sleeping in itself as a breach of EU treaty rights – a single outreach team continued to share for a further eight months.
St Mungo’s chief executive Howard Sinclair said the executive team took “full responsibility” in acknowledging more could have done to explain the change in approach and adopt it into formal policies and procedures.
Policy now clearly states that St Mungo’s does not share any information about clients with the Home Office without the client’s full and informed consent unless legally obliged to do so.
“Accountability is one of St Mungo’s values and we take our responsibilities as a charity extremely seriously.
We promised to review our actions and share our findings – we are delivering on that promise,” Sinclair said.
The charity set up the review to investigate complaints over the way some outreach teams worked with the Home Office immigration and enforcement teams when seeking to help EU citizens who were sleeping rough between 2010 and 2017.
Formal complaints were submitted to the Charity Commission and the Information Commissioner’s Office in 2018.
Both regulatory bodies found that St Mungo’s was acting lawfully and within regulations, but the St Mungo’s Board asked a senior member of staff, Dominic Williamson, to undertake an internal review into this matter and committed to sharing its findings.
Evidence gathered included interviews, evidence gathering from email archives, minutes of meetings and other fact finding. Members of staff were invited to come forward and talk confidentially if they had evidence or concerns.
Among the main findings are:
- Work with the Home Office to encourage destitute EU citizens off the streets sometimes involves sharing basic information about individuals without their consent.
St Mungo’s says this was lawful under data protection law and recognised as good practice by London Councils, the GLA and Homeless Link in the 2015 Pan London Protocol.
- This approach changed in May 2016 when the Government introduced a new policy which regarded rough sleeping in itself as a breach of EU treaty rights.
To St Mungo’s this meant that rough sleepers were liable to more rapid detention and removal with less opportunity to find alternative solutions, and at this point outreach managers agreed that working with the Home Office would be a last resort and information would no longer be shared without consent.
- However, against these expectations, one of the 18 outreach teams continued to share information between July 2016 and February 2017.
St Mungo’s acknowledges the fact that one team had not changed its approach also meant that when the approach was explained externally at this time it did not completely reflect what every team was doing or the change in approach that outreach managers had adopted from July 2016.
St Mungo’s policy now clearly states that the charity does not share any information about clients with the Home Office without the client’s full and informed consent unless legally obliged to do so.
- In the case of safeguarding concerns, the senior safeguarding lead will assess whether releasing any information is necessary and proportionate.
If data sharing is found justified, the information will be shared with the local authority safeguarding team only – not directly with the Home Office.
With the findings of the review now public, Sinclair stresses that the “disgrace” of a rough sleeping crisis continues – with more than 720 people dying last year while rough sleeping or homeless.
“Charities can’t deal with the problems people are facing alone (and) services for EU and other non-UK citizens are either full or non-existent.
“We need urgent concerted government action if we are to stop more people living and dying on the streets.
“Everyone needs safe realistic routes for them to move on, be reconnected to services in other European countries or found decent, safe temporary accommodation, with appropriate healthcare, while their legal status is resolved,” said Sinclair.
“I know our staff prioritise client safety and wellbeing at all times, despite the extremely difficult circumstances they work in – we are proud of the work they do.
“If a vulnerable person with no home, no money and no access to support in the UK, is to be supported away from the streets it takes a great deal of effort and the involvement of a range of agencies.
Right now the help available for this group is far from adequate – above all, the person’s safety and welfare is paramount,” he said.