§ Mr. Warren
asked the Secretary of State for Social Services under what authority he refuses access by disabled persons to the files on their cases held by his Department; and to whom access to these files is given and under what authority.
§ Mr. Alfred Morris
It is the Department's general policy not to allow access to files relating to individuals. However, subject to the need to avoid disclosing potentially harmful medical information, copies of documents from files may be made available to the person concerned in certain circumstances, notably if he appeals against a decision on a claim for a social security benefit. Access to files relating to individuals is not normally given to third parties, though in exceptional cases a file may be made available to another Department on a "need to know" basis. Moreover, information from files is not normally disclosed to third parties without the consent of the person concerned though, exceptionally, disclosure may be made, for example, to public authorities for welfare and similar purposes.
In general, this policy is not based on statutory or other specific authority but derives from my right hon. Friend's responsibility as Secretary of State for the proper administration of the Department 577W in the public interest. This involves, among other considerations, responsibility for protecting the confidentiality of personal information held in the Department's files and for making the most effective and economical use of available manpower.