§ 68 After Clause 51, insert the following new clause—
§ "Disclosure of information by Inland Revenue
§ "Provision of information by Board for purposes relating to welfare of children
§ 10A (1) This paragraph applies to information, other than information relating to a person's income, which is held for the purposes of functions relating to tax credits, child benefit or guardian's allowance—
- (a) by the Board, or
- (b) by a person providing services to the Board, in connection with the provision of those services.
§ (2) Information to which this paragraph applies may be supplied to—
- (a) a local authority in England and Wales for use for the purpose of any enquiry or investigation under Part 5 of the Children Act 1989 relating to the welfare of a child;
- (b) a local authority in Scotland for use for the purpose of any enquiry or investigation under Chapter 3 of Part 2 of the Children (Scotland) Act 1995 relating to the welfare of a child:
- (c) an authority in Northern Ireland for use for the purpose of any enquiry or investigation under Part 6 of the Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995 (S.I. 1995/755 (N.1.2)) relating to the welfare of a child.
§ (3) Information supplied under this paragraph is not to be supplied by the recipient to any other person or body unless it is supplied—
- (a) for the purpose of any enquiry or investigation referred to in sub-paragraph (2) above,
- (b) for the purpose of civil or criminal proceedings, or
- (c) where paragraph (a) or (b) does not apply, to a person to whom the information could be supplied directly by or under the authority of the Board.
§ (4) Information may not be supplied under sub-paragraph (3)(b) or (c) without the authority of the Board.
§ (5) A person commits an offence if he discloses information supplied to him under this paragraph unless the disclosure is made—
- (a) in accordance with sub-paragraph (3),
- (b) in accordance with an enactment or an order of a court,
- (c) with consent given by or on behalf of the person to whom the information relates, or
- (d) in such a way as to prevent the identification of the person to whom it relates.
§ (6) It is a defence for a person charged with an offence under sub-paragraph (5) to prove that he reasonably believed that his disclosure was lawful.
§ (7) A person guilty of an offence under sub-paragraph (5) is liable—
- (a) on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years, to a fine or to both;
- (b) on summary conviction in England and Wales, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding twelve months, to a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum or to both;
- (c) on summary conviction in Scotland or Northern Ireland, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months, to a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum or to both.
§ (8) In sub-paragraph (2)"child" means a person under the age of eighteen and—
- (a) in paragraph (a), "local authority" has the meaning given by section 105(1) of the Children Act 1989;
- (b) in paragraph (b), "local authority" has the meaning given by section 93(1) of the Children (Scotland) Act 1995; and
- (c) in paragraph (c), "authority" has the meaning given by Article 2 of the Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995 (S.I. 1995/755 (N.I.2)).
§ (9) The reference to an enactment in sub-paragraph (5)(b) includes a reference to an enactment comprised in, or in an instrument made under, an Act of the Scottish Parliament."
§ (2) In relation to an offence committed under sub-paragraph (5) of paragraph 10A of Schedule 5 to the Tax Credits Act 2002 (c. 21) (as inserted by subsection (1) above) before the commencement of section 154 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, the reference in sub-paragraph (7)(b) of that paragraph to twelve months shall be read as a reference to six months."
§ Lord Filkin
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 68. It was prompted by concerns about local authorities' access to Inland Revenue information.
Following its transfer from the Department for Work and Pensions to the Inland Revenue, the Child Benefit Office was legally prohibited from providing information to local authorities for the purposes of assisting in child protection inquiries. The reason is that the Child Benefit Office, on moving into the Inland Revenue, now falls within the strict confidentiality laws which exist to protect the privacy of data provided by the Inland Revenue's customers.
However, when the Child Benefit Office was part of the Department for Work and Pensions, it often quite legally and quite properly shared information with local authorities for the purpose of assisting with child protection inquiries, particularly in relation to the possible location of a missing family or child about whom there were concerns.
We understand from the Commission for Social Care Inspection that local authorities found this to be a useful source of information for such inquiries, especially where emergency action was needed.
We therefore tabled the amendment to amend Schedule 5 to the Tax Credit Act 2002 to give the Inland Revenue lawful authority to provide local authorities with the limited amount of information relating to children they might need from the revenue for the purpose of investigating concerns about a child's welfare. Such inquiries will generally be under Section 47, which requires local authorities to make inquiries where they suspect a child is at risk of significant harm.
The new clause mirrors the other information-sharing gateways in Schedule 5 to the Tax Credit Act 2002, all of which contain provisions to ensure that the information is used only for the purposes for which it is provided. Government Amendment No. 159 provides that the amendment would come into force on the day the Children Bill receives Royal Assent.
We do not believe that the revenue will be the first port of call for local authorities, and so we would expect to see local authorities using this amendment only to seek information from the revenue in limited circumstances, and on a case by case basis. But in those few cases we do want the revenue to be able to disclose information—for example, the names and details of a family's address—which could be crucial to protecting children who may be 1002 at risk of imminent and significant harm. I hope therefore that in that circumscribed way noble Lords will agree to make such information available to local authorities through this amendment.
Moved, That the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 68.—(Lord Filkin.)
§ Baroness Walmsley
My Lords, the amendment appears to be totally justified in the interests of safeguarding children. I welcome it. I just say that the idea of us all being customers of the Inland Revenue strikes me as rather droll; the word "victim" springs to mind.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.