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How the old or disabled are put out to tender
Online procurement, Issue 1386
COUNCILS that package up their vulnerable elderly or disabled people as a list of care needs and put them up for online tender may be breaching individuals’ rights to privacy as well as data protection laws.

After the Eye alerted the Information Commissioner’s Office last November, Devon county council was forced to apologise to one family who were horrified to discover from a care home owner that their son, James Knight, had become the subject of online procurement.

Even though Mr Knight, who has brain damage, was not named, he had been identified from the very personal details – from his behaviour, care and health needs to his relationships – posted on the council’s “brokerage” site. His family are happy for him to be named now, in order to highlight the tendering process they think should be stopped.

The cheapest bid
The tender system, where potential care homes offer care for a fee, has been criticised as “dehumanising” and as a way to save money for cash-strapped councils who are accused of opting for the cheapest bid. Critics say the system is at odds with current care legislation and guidance focused on “personalisation” and “dignity”.

The ICO is still investigating Devon, but in the meantime the council has admitted that it failed to “suitably anonymise” Mr Knight’s details and said it was making other changes to protect its clients’ privacy, including ensuring they or their carers approve the details and consent explicitly to their use; that the information would be encrypted during transfer; and that access to it would be controlled by the council.

Whether this will be enough to satisfy the ICO remains to be seen. But one human rights expert tells the Eye the system also has the potential to breach Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights – the right to a private and family life – in several respects.

Kept in the dark
So far only a handful of councils have adopted the online tendering scheme, including Kent, Southend and Birmingham, with others like Medway attracted by the promise of 5 percent savings about to adopt the system. All insist care placements are based on quality and not just on who makes the lowest charge. But only Southend said it tells clients or their representatives that they are involved in an online tendering process and how it works. In Birmingham and Kent they are kept in the dark.

The councils say the system simply replaces phone calls with emails and insist the data is anonymised. However, the wealth of intimate detail about individuals included in their tender processes appears very similar to that which caused Devon to reveal Mr Knight’s identity. No doubt this is something the ICO will consider when it decides whether any problems identified in the West Country are more widespread.

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Next issue on sale:
3rd March 2015.
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Next issue on sale: 3rd March 2015.

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