Alan contacted our helpline after he’d received a letter from his local council following an application to go onto their housing register. The council had written to Alan asking him to provide proof of his convictions and stating that they would accept his Subject Access Request (SAR) as evidence.
We advised him that requesting a SAR could be classed as enforced subject access, which is illegal under section 184 of the Data Protection Act 2018. We also explained that housing applications were covered by the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act and that Alan only needed to disclose unspent convictions to the council. By providing them with a copy of his SAR, he could potentially be giving them details of spent convictions which they were not legally entitled to know about.
On the information that Alan gave us, we were able to confirm that his conviction was now spent and shouldn’t be disclosed to the council.
We suggested that he contact the council advising them of the following:
- The law covering enforced subject access requests;
- That for housing purposes, the council could only ask about unspent cautions and convictions.
Alan contacted us several weeks later advising us that he’d raised his concerns with the council and that he’d received a response from them. In the letter, the council had:
- Agreed that his conviction was spent and confirmed that they should not have asked him to provide them with his subject access request.
- Added him to the housing register, backdated to May 2015, so that his application could be dealt with as a priority.
- Confirmed that they had updated their process to make it clear that applicants only needed to disclose unspent cautions/convictions.
“If I hadn’t contacted Unlock I would have handed over my subject access request which would have disclosed my spent conviction. If the council had seen that I had a conviction, I’m sure they would have refused to add me to the housing register.”
Despite enforced subject access becoming a criminal offence on the 10th March 2015, it’s surprising that a council would still request this as proof of an individual’s criminal record. If a council needs formal evidence of a criminal record then they can request a basic DBS check, which would disclose any unspent convictions.
This case highlights why it’s important to seek as much information as you can about what housing providers, employers etc can ask you about your criminal record so that you don’t provide more detail than is necessary. With the knowledge he had, Alan was able to get the council to confirm that he didn’t have to provide details of his criminal record and also had his application backdated. The council also agreed to update their process which will benefit many more people applying to go onto the housing register.
Notes about this case study
This case study relates to Unlock’s helpline.
Names and details have been changed to protect the identity of those involved.