Author Archives: Tim Hughes

Tim Hughes

About Tim Hughes

Tim is Involve's incoming director, taking over from 21st January 2017. Tim has led campaigns and advocacy on open government; advised national, devolved and local governments, civil society organisations and multilateral institutions; and researched and written on topics including public participation, open government, democratic reform, civil society advocacy and public administration.

Royal Statistical Society response to open policy making on data-sharing

The Royal Statistical Society has produced the following response to the discussions and proposals on data sharing for research and statistics:

Our National Statistics Advisory Group has welcomed close involvement in the open policy process facilitated by the Cabinet Office with Involve. We have seen sensible discussion of options for research and statistics with a wider range of government and non-government stakeholders than might otherwise be the case. Omitting other strands of work on “tailored public services” and “fraud, error and debt”, in which we have not participated, we have the following comments.

Documents as currently drafted recognise the aspiration to develop ‘broad powers’ in legislation that it is thought would encourage more data to be linked for research and statistics. However they also recognise that attempts to introduce broad powers in legislation can carry greater risks and can lead single reforms that would otherwise be acceptable to fail. For example public support for data to be linked together for one purpose may be countered by opposition to linkage for other purposes. Support improves however when a clear case for public benefit is made. For research and statistics the limits of activities enabled from the proposed changes can be shown and we feel that starting from this, the case for public support could be well made.

This process has also built some understanding of the technical processes being proposed to de- identify data for research, and the models being favoured. Models should be subject to review in practice but building understanding in this way is valuable so that they are taken up and tested.

We also note some of the limits of the scope of this policy-making exercise, firstly with regard to health and care data and secondly with regard to the private sector. The paper on de-identified data states that the Department of Health “does not believe it is appropriate for another or alternative method of disclosure [of health and care data] to be made available”. Linking health data with data from other departments is known to address research questions in the public interest, so potential barriers to such questions being posed warrants discussion elsewhere. Sustainable legislation would also need to address the scope of the sector’s activities. We welcome the statement that legislation emerging from this particular policy process will not speak against private bodies or persons being researchers. Work elsewhere will be valuable to address some of the issues raised by private sector involvement.

Finally, we would share the view that policy-making and research is no substitute for public consultation on any legislation that follows. This is expected to take place separately and in full.

The full letter can be accessed via: RSS_Letter_to_CO_data_sharing_team_Aug2014-2

Data Sharing Proposals Workshop | Cardiff | 11 September 2014

10am-4pm, Thursday 11th September 2014
Companies House, Cardiff, CF14 3UZ

The UK Government have been working in partnership with public sector, civil society and privacy organisations over the last 5 months to jointly develop policy and legislative proposals for three key problem areas:

  • Better understanding UK society and economy, through enhanced research and statistics;
  • Tackling fraud and better management of debt; and
  • More effective tailoring of public services.

The process has highlighted there are clear privacy and data security concerns with the sharing of information between government departments and agencies, as well as concerns with the transparency and accountability of the existing data sharing landscape.

A workshop, facilitated by the Cabinet Office, will explore data sharing in relation to each of these issues in a devolved context.

As there are limited places available we are inviting expressions of interest from Welsh Civil Society organisations who wish to take part.

Among other issues, the workshop will explore:

  • Is data sharing an effective solution to addressing the issue?
  • What should be the parameters and limitations to data sharing for this purpose?
  • What alternatives are there to data sharing for addressing these issues?
  • What safeguards need to be in place to ensure public trust?
  • What scrutiny process should a data sharing proposal be required to go through?
  • How can the scrutiny of data sharing be improved (e.g. to be more transparent and accountable)?
  • What cross-border issues need to be considered in the context of data sharing?

Based on emerging findings from an open policy making approach to date, this workshop will begin to help Civil Society and the Welsh Government understand any implications of these proposals for Wales.

To register interest – please email datasharingpolicy@cabinet-office.gsi.gov.uk

Data Sharing Disclosure Standard | Proposal for comments

The paper linked below sets out a draft proposal developed by Tim Davies and Reuben Binns, and updated following discussion at the Tailored Public Services full day strand workshop, for a data sharing disclosure standard. Tim and Reuben are interested in receiving comments on the proposal.

Proposal for a Data Sharing Disclosure Standard

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1bqmWB407IQX2XfcKqHTLEoxWzsHfWZJM5MuoZKO1-bo/edit#

Fraud, Error & Debt | Draft proposals for comment

The paper linked below sets out draft policy proposals on the Fraud, Error & Debt strand for comment until end Friday 29th August 2014. These papers have been developed and revised by the Cabinet Office based on discussions during the open policy process, most recently the 18th July full day strand workshop.

Following the return of comments on this draft, the paper will be revised and amalgamated with the Research & Statistics and Tailored Public Services strand papers to form a single document. This will form the basis for ongoing scrutiny and engagement around the proposals.

Draft policy proposals for Fraud, Error & Debt

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1t8aDVhiDrcm2R1A29gotVdqpLUIUtcHQF_szYGztjXc/edit?usp=sharing

Tailored Public Services | Draft proposals for comment

The paper linked below sets out draft policy proposals on the Tailored Public Services strand for comment until end Monday 25th August 2014. These papers have been developed and revised by the Cabinet Office based on discussions during the open policy process, most recently the 28th July full day strand workshop.

Following the return of comments on this draft, the paper will be revised and amalgamated with the Research & Statistics and Fraud, Error & Debt strand papers (to be published for comment shortly) to form a single document. This will form the basis for ongoing scrutiny and engagement around the proposals.

Draft policy proposals for Tailored Public Services

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1g6kpiRUpgECnR2IXCuP0O1_VmuMMBgbD-oCmQI4wHVE/edit?usp=sharing

Research & Statistics | Draft proposals for comment

The papers linked below set out draft policy proposals on the Research & Statistics strand for comment until end Friday 22nd August 2014. These papers have been developed and revised by the Cabinet Office based on discussions during the open policy process, most recently the 23rd July Full day strand workshop.

Following the return of comments on this draft, the paper will be revised and amalgamated with the Fraud, Error & Debt and Tailored Public Services strand papers (to be published for comment shortly) to form a single document. This will form the basis for ongoing scrutiny and engagement around the proposals.

Part One – Draft De-identified Strand Paper

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1Wi-85sOumAZqgcBLKKjc9bVxBdkqynF7qglbkWLniF8/edit?usp=sharing

Part Two – Draft Identified Strand Paper

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1wDQ35ClbnwT-2iLjFYw6MJhCLU1sgol5TjjDWeQ9CxU/edit?usp=sharing

Part Three – Draft HMRC Proposals

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1xv9nFA0Wp94NsBo5LVKUhW7shAA24-VfZb9Eq1qSAns/edit?usp=sharing

Part Four – Additional Issues

https://docs.google.com/a/involve.org.uk/document/d/1ikTjla32-OhhvqUsKjDPd6v86wBYISPFDXq5VvSLwjU/edit

Part Four – Appendix One – Offences Matrix

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1ykOOgyqVAK-RbuBOXtN0LT0myrR88GnTOGotuzeh_ug/edit?usp=sharing

Data Sharing Legislation: Safeguards to Replace Affirmative Resolution | ONS proposal

Paper prepared by the Office for National Statistics.

Word version: Data Sharing Legislation: Safeguards to Replace Affirmative Resolution

Safeguards

1    ONS has developed some options for replacing Parliamentary scrutiny and approval, designed to provide adequate safeguards around data sharing for statistical purposes. These options are offered for discussion.

2    Under SRSA S47, Information Sharing Orders (ISOs) are approved by Affirmative Resolution in both Houses of Parliament. Affirmative resolution fulfils two functions:

  • independent scrutiny of the proposal to ensure that the business case is robust and the conclusions justified; and
  • provides the legal approval for the data share.

3    Any alternative approach to scrutiny and decision making must have the same – or greater – rigour. ONS would wish that once a rigorous scrutiny has taken place, the legal approval for the data share be made quickly and easily.

The current approach: Information Sharing Orders and Affirmative Resolution in Parliament

4    Many steps precede the Parliamentary process to ensure that a proposal is appropriate and lawful. There are significant discussions between ONS and the data owner to establish the statistical and business case, privacy impact assessments and legal reviews. The governance arrangements for these decisions vary between data owners: in some cases the data share is reviewed by a departmental ethics committee, in others it is at Board level. These steps provide internal scrutiny and ensure that, from the perspective of the data owner, the share is appropriate, legal, proportionate and ethical. This work should continue to be part of any data sharing process.

5    Once Officials and Ministers agree that an ISO should be laid, the Minister for the Cabinet Office (MCO) writes round to all Ministerial colleagues to secure their agreement to the Order. If Ministers are content, the Order is laid before Parliament. Once laid, but before debate, it is reviewed by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments (JCSI) to assure that it is properly drafted, and the Lords’ Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, which considers the proposal to identify whether it:

  • raises issues around legal, political or public policy; or
  • is inappropriate because circumstances have changed since the relevant primary legislation was passed; or
  • inappropriately implements EU legislation; or
  • imperfectly achieves its policy objectives.

6    A short debate follows, in each House, informed by any issues raised by the Scrutiny Committees. There is no scope to amend the Order: it stands or falls as laid. Affirmative resolution provides the opportunity for external scrutiny check before the data owner gets the legal permission to share data: it is currently the only point in the data sharing process where a cross-government view is possible.

7    Hansard shows the depth and nature of the debates for the five ISOs that have been laid. The number of attendees at the debates has ranged from two to fifteen; the length of debates is usually 15-30 minutes; the longest debate lasted 40 minutes (this was the first ISO), the shortest debate lasted one minute. The debates rarely consider the details of the data share, but instead discuss wider issues related to it (for example, the importance of the Census, or data security). Assuming the Order is approved by both Houses, it is signed by MCO and the Minister responsible for the data owing Department, and becomes law. ONS has found that affirmative resolution process adds approximately six months to the time it takes to get a data share.

Possible alternatives to Affirmative Resolution

8    In considering alternatives to Parliamentary scrutiny, we have sought to ensure that decisions are made at an appropriate level, by someone who can be held to account. Data owners are accountable for the way they hold and use their data: how far should they be accountable for decisions about how that data is used? Should they be responsible for approving data sharing?

9    We have also considered the place for independent external scrutiny of data sharing proposals. Independent scrutiny provides support to those making decisions about complex or unfamiliar issues, and assures the public that the proposal has been considered from an external perspective. It should be transparent, with decisions and advice made public. It should be rigorous, giving detailed consideration to each proposal, and provide assurance that the proposal:

  • is in the public interest;
  • is lawful;
  • supports a valid statistical purpose; and
  • appropriately reflects practical issues such as compliance with Government security policy frameworks and standards.

Option 1: Information Sharing Orders Approved by Affirmative Resolution (Do Nothing)

10    The process of affirmative resolution is set out in paragraphs 4-6. The advantages of this approach are:

  • Decision made by Parliament, and has the clear force of law;
  • Decision is independent from the parties to the proposed data share;
  • Discussion around the proposal is documented in Hansard and available to the public.

11    The disadvantages of this approach are:

  • MCO, in laying the Order, is dependant for advice about ethics and information law from the same Officials who have prepared the business case under consideration.
  • debates rarely consider the detail – as described in paragraph 9 – of the proposed data share;
  • debates are on a case by case basis and there is little opportunity to develop a common understanding of the issues around data sharing for statistical purposes and how to address them;
  • Officials draft ISOs cautiously because it is not possible to amend the Order as a result of debate. This limits the scope for using the reusing data for other statistical outputs;
  • an Order is necessary even where what is contemplates is a feasibility study to assess the benefits of a substantive data share;
  • the process is time-consuming and dependent upon the availability of Parliamentary time and adds unnecessary time.

Option 2: Information Sharing Orders Approved by Negative Resolution

12    The process for this is very similar to the current situation and represents the minimum change in the arrangements. MCO would write-round to all Ministerial colleagues to secure their agreement to the Order. Assuming their agreement, the Order would be laid before Parliament and considered JCSI and by the Lords’ Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee. Once laid, the Order becomes law without a debate or a vote. However, if there is an objection from either House within 40 days, it will be annulled.

13    The advantages of this approach are:

  • the approach is well-established and understood
  • Parliament is involved and the Order clearly has the force of law
  • greater accessibility for Parliamentarians – their contribution would not be constrained by their availability for the debate;
  • the approach provides a degree of speed, in that it is not dependent on the Parliamentary timetable and availability of a time slot for a debate.

14    Disadvantages include;

  • although independent from officials making the business case, it does not necessarily ensure a rigorous assessment of the proposal
  • it does not assist the development of a consistent approach or a body of precedent that can guide officials
  • MCO, in laying the Order, is dependant for advice about ethics and information law from the same Officials who have prepared the business case under consideration. 

Option 3: Decision by Minister, briefed by Officials

15    A business case could be submitted to the relevant minister by officials in the data owning Department, or MCO.   The Minister would satisfy themselves that the business case was robust and that the proposal met the criteria set out in paragraph 9.

16    On the basis of this assessment, and subject to the conclusions of a Ministerial write-round, to ensure that there are no objections from elsewhere in Government, the Minister approves the proposed data share.

17    The advantages of this solution are:

  • provided agreement exists at Official level, this would be a quick process, akin to the process of Ministerial Directions under the Statistics of Trade Act 1947;
  • the decision to share data sits with the Minister responsible for the data owner;
  • Ministers are accountable to Parliament, and could be challenged on their decision.

18    Key disadvantages are:

  • lack of independent scrutiny of the proposal, for example about whether the business case is robust and relevant;
  • Ministers would be dependant for advice about ethics and information law from the very officials who have prepared the business case under consideration;
  • decisions based solely on departmental advice and perspectives could perpetuate differing interpretations of what is permissible in law.

Option 4: Decision by an Independent Ethics and Approvals Body

19    This stand-alone body would only examine the business cases for data shares with ONS, under the proposed generic gateway. Paragraph 4 describes the internal scrutiny that takes place in Departments: this should continue and would be reviewed by this independent body to ensure that the business case was robust and that the proposal met the criteria set out in paragraph 9.

20    On the basis of this assessment, the Chair of the body would then give the legal approval to the proposed data share.

21    This body could include lay members as well as statistical and data experts, appointed by an independent authority or Crown Appointee with responsibility for data issues or statistics. With clear terms of reference, it would mirror some of the attributes of similar departmental ethics committees such as the DWP Data Sharing Ethics Committee. The committee could offer advice to Departments on request during the formulation of a business case, as well as making a decision at the end of the process. To ensure transparency, proposals could be posted publicly before they are considered, allowing the public the opportunity to make representations. Minutes, advice offered and decisions made by the committee could also be made public.

22    The advantages of this approach include:

  • independence from the parties to the data sharing;
  • inclusion of lay members to represent the public interests;
  • transparency of advice and decision making;
  • decisions based on a rigorous understanding of the data issues, privacy issues and statistical merits of the proposal;
  • consistent approach across Government to data shares for statistical uses, providing clarity to data owners.

23    The disadvantages are:

  • data owners lose a key element of their responsibilities – decisions about how the data is used;
  • there is no separation between the scrutiny of the proposal and giving legal approval;
  • the ethics committee consideration could add additional time and burden to the process, making it only slightly quicker than affirmative resolution;
  • it would add costs through the creation of a new stand-alone body which may meet infrequently.

Option 5: Advice from a Single, Independent Ethics Committee, Leading To a Ministerial Decision

24    In this model, an independent ethics committee could consider all proposed data shares made using the proposed generic gateway with ONS. It could comprise experts, appointed and operating in the same way as in Option 4 with advice and decisions made public. As in option 4, the internal scrutiny that we describe in paragraph 4 would continue, and would be reviewed by this independent Ethics Committee to ensure that the proposal met the criteria set out in paragraph 9.

25    The Ethics Committee would then advise the relevant Minister about any issues raised, or confirm that no issues are raised by the proposal. Subject to this, and the conclusions of a Ministerial write-round, to ensure there were no objections from Cabinet Colleagues, the Minister would then make the decision to share the data.

26    The advantages of this approach are

  • the decision lies clearly with the Minister responsible for the data, who is directly accountable to Parliament;
  • Ministers have the benefit of independent expert advice about the data share;
  • separate accountability structures for the scrutiny of the proposal and the decision to share data, so that both the Minister and the advising committee can be held to account;
  • decisions based on a rigorous understanding of the data issues, privacy issues and statistical merits of the proposal;
  • consistent advice and opinion across Government to data shares for statistical uses, providing clarity to data owners.

27    The disadvantages are:

  • the Ethics Committee consideration could add additional time and burden to the process, making it only slightly quicker than affirmative resolution;
  • potential overlap with the roles of ethics committees that already exist in Government. This could result in conflicting opinions and longer timescales for getting approval;
  • it would add costs through the creation of a new stand-alone ethics committee.

Option 6: Advice From a Single, Independent Ethics Committee, Leading To a Decision Made by Officials

28    This is similar to Option 5, with advice from an Independent Ethics Committee similar to that described in Option 4, but the decision whether to share the data is taken by an official in the data owning department. Officials are accountable to Ministers for their decisions.

29    In some cases, legislation already allows officials to make a decision to share data for operational purposes without reference to Ministers on each occasion; in other cases a Ministerial power is delegated to a nominated Official . Public authorities would need to ensure that there was a designated official with delegated authority to make decisions of this nature. As with options 4 & 5, the Ethics Committee should be publicly accountable for its advice.

30    The advantages of this approach are:

  • delegating decision making to those directly involved in managing and understanding the data;
  • speed of decision making leading to flexibility to changing circumstances
  • officials have access to independent, accountable, advice that covers the complex legal, technical, statistical and public interest issues;
  • consistent advice and opinion across Government to data shares for statistical uses, providing clarity to data owners;
  • transparency of advice offered by the committee;
  • there is separation between the scrutiny of the proposal and giving authorisation.

31    The disadvantages of this approach are:

  • at no point, is Parliament, or a member of the Government involved in the decision to share data for statistics;
  • the Ethics Committee considerations could add additional time and burden to the process, making it only slightly quicker than affirmative resolution;
  • lack of Ministerial involvement could lead to the perpetuation of a cautious approach to data sharing by Officials;
  • perceived lack of transparency and a dilution of accountability through exchanging Ministerial decision for a decision made by Officials;
  • it would add costs through the creation of a new stand-alone ethics committee.

Option 7: Decision by a Crown Appointee.

32    A person appointed by the Crown could be responsible for approving data sharing proposals in relation to statistics. Their decision would be based on a business case by Officials in the data owning Department.   In paragraph 4 we describe the internal scrutiny that takes place in Departments: this should continue and would be reviewed by the Crown Appointee, who would satisfy themselves that the business case was robust and that the proposal met the criteria set out in paragraph 9.

33    On the basis of this assessment the Crown Appointee would approve the proposed data share.

34    The advantages of this solution are:

  • provided agreement exists at Official level, this could be a quick process, akin to the process of Ministerial Directions under the Statistics of Trade Act 1947.
  • the decision to share data is separate from the Officials making the proposal;
  • the crown appointee is accountable to Parliament, and could be challenged on their decision;
  • a single decision making point in Government will facilitate a consistent approach to data sharing for statistics.

35    The disadvantages are:

  • the Crown Appointee would be dependant for advice about ethics and information law from the very officials who have prepared the business case under consideration;
  • lack of independent scrutiny of the proposal, for example about whether the business case is robust and relevant. It is likely that the Crown Appointee would feel the need for independent advice and create an ethics committee to advise them about the detail of the proposal;
  • unless the role is given to an existing Appointee, this would require additional cost in creating a new post;
  • the decision to share data is taken away from the data owner, diluting their accountability.

Full day workshops | Meeting invitations

Data sharing – the sharing of personal information between organisations – has been proposed by government as a solution to three groups of issues:

  • Tackling fraud and better management of debt
  • Better understanding UK society and economy, through enhanced research and statistics
  • More effective tailoring of public services

On the other side, there are clear privacy and data security concerns with the sharing of personal information between government departments and agencies, as well as concerns with the transparency and accountability of the existing data sharing landscape.

These workshops, jointly facilitated by the Cabinet Office and Involve, will explore data sharing in relation to each of these issues.

This open policy process is intended to involve a broad range of experts from civil society, academia and beyond in exploring the benefits, risks, limitations, governance and alternatives for sharing personal data within government. It will result in a policy paper outlining areas of agreement and disagreement between and within the civil society, expert and government groups involved.

Among other issues, the workshops will explore:

  • Is data sharing an effective solution to addressing the issue?
  • What should be the parameters and limitations to data sharing for this purpose?
  • What alternatives are there to data sharing for addressing these issues?
  • What safeguards need to be in place to ensure public trust?
  • What scrutiny process should a data sharing proposal be required to go through?
  • How can the scrutiny of data sharing be improved (e.g. to be more transparent and accountable)?

These workshops will form the first step of the development of the policy paper. Explore this site for more information on this open policy process and to see what has taken place already.

Fraud, error & debt | 26 June 2014 | Meeting note

26 June 2014

Attendees

Oliver Butler, Law Commission
John McIlwraith, DWP
Jonathan Dennis, DWP (Legal)
Mitch Riviere, HMRC
Sarah Wells, HMRC
Alison Morris, CLG
Bevis Ingram, Local Government Association
Geoff Eales, Charities Commission
Graeme Thomson, Cabinet Office
Rupert Cryer, Cabinet Office
Simon Burton, Cabinet Office
Jonathan Wallis, Cabinet Office
Dan Nesbitt, Big Brother Watch
John Elliot, Open Rights Group
Judith Jones, ICO
Ben Hayes, Statewatch
Javier Ruiz, Open Rights Group
Paul Arnold, Cabinet Office 

Morning Session

Item 1 – Arrival and Welcome

  1. The session opened with a welcome and an overview of the context of the current Open Policy Making (OPM) process for this workstrand.
  1. Introductions around the table were made. 

Item 2 – Review Previous Minute and Actions

  1. A minor edit to the minutes was agreed.
  1. The action points from the last meeting were reviewed:
1 Paper B to be edited as per group discussion and re-circulated for agreement.
2 John Wallis (economics, CO) and PA to meet with CO Behavioural Insights team to examine options for stakeholder studies on fraud and information sharing. CO have reached out to the BI team but due to workloads no progress has been made as yet. CO expect to have met by the time of the next FED session.
3 Any further queries on Paper C should be directed to PA in the first instance. No further comments were received.
4 Any further queries on Paper D should be directed to PA in the first instance. No further comments were received.

Item 3 – Paper B: ‘Fraud Error and Debt – Heads of Agreement’

  1. The latest version of the paper was put to the group. It was agreed that the paper accurately reflected the position the group had reached to date.
  1. PA summarised the major areas where the group felt more clarity was needed.
  1. It was noted that the Law Commission were continuing work around data sharing between public bodies.
  1. A discussion around the differences and overlaps between data-sharing and data-matching took place.

Item 4 – Paper D: ‘Current thinking on Debt’

  1. Rupert Cryer gave a talk on the scale of government debt, the base case for tackling it and the contribution that a general information sharing power could bring to that.
  1. A full discussion followed that. The following points and queries came up:
  • Do we need to make existing gateways more effective (there are currently at least 15) – or do we need new legislation? It seems that at least some of the solution involves using what we have already but better.
  • Private sector examples: HSBC, Barclays, Thames Water. Seem to show results from pooling data from numerous areas of a business into one collection team and process. Queries around if this is truly analogous to public sector debt, especially when 90% is in DWP and HMRC.
  • Collectibility of debt. What do we know about the composition behind the headline debt figures? How aged is the debt? How collectible is it realistically?
  • What is the realistic size of the prize?
  • Is the expectation towards a) sharing data on the citizen – or b) sharing data on the debts?
  • The Ministerial lead is that we should be aiming to manage debt across Government Departments and agencies better. Multiple debts should be administered as one.
  • Infrastructure – what would follow from the additional data sharing? How would it be used, collated, monitored? What is the expectation of who would do this?
  • Are we envisaging a one-stop debt collection agency?
  • What role if any for the private sector? Concerns around that. The civil society groups probably have more faith in Government than the private sector to run such undertakings.
  • Point made that the private sector is already involved in public sector debt collection.
  • Is the problem more at the front end of data collection – i.e. data not being properly collected and cleansed in the first instance, leading to poor and inaccurate records.
  • Where is the evidence to show that greater or better data sharing would help with debt collection?
  • Advantages of a single point of debt collection – to Government and the citizen – were broadly acknowledged by the group.
  • DWP & HMRC own 90% of debt. Need more on the composition of this debt.
  • DWP & HMRC have a gateway. Indications are that it operates effectively. What would a new power bring to these departments data sharing activities?
  • What is the privacy impact – and how will it be measured?
  • How many multiple debtors are there out there – we cannot currently see. The unknown unknowns. Is a pilot the first step to size up the issue?
  • What are the current frustrations to debt collection? We need evidence on this.
  • Is it a process issue? Cultural?
  • Is access to RTI data being considered? We know how collection agencies already use this data to time their collections.
  • There was a feeling from some that there was a gap between the problem statement and the evidence so far presented.
  • Definitions: are they tight enough? What is “overdue debt”? Goes towards what is collectible and what is written off and how it is accounted for. What is the composition of the headline debt figure?
  • Child Maintenance was mentioned – is this a government debt? It is not owed to government presumably.
  1. In summary, whilst the group felt clear on the questions for further research there was a feeling that further work needed to be done on the scope of the problem and what the expectation around collectibility would be. A 22% rule of thumb percentage was discussed.

Afternoon Session

Item 5 – Paper D: ‘Fraud, Error and Debt Gap Analysis’

  1. The group broke into three smaller groups for further discussions on paper D. The content of Paper D was agreed. The groups were then asked to try and identify any additional evidential gaps. The following was fed back to the entire group:
  • National Audit Office 1% public sector fraud tolerance level – is it too ambitious?
  • What are the cultural reasons for poor data sharing?
  • What are the likely data sharing flows that could increase as a result of a general power?
  • What are the disincentives for sharing? Risk of making mistakes? Sanctions against individuals?
  • Is the issue a result of lack of clarity around current data sharing powers?
  • To what extent does a solution involve engineering of what we currently have?
  • How do we account for non-monetary fraud (e.g. Blue Badge)?
  • Is government ambitious enough in chasing fraud?
  • Who will Government need to engage with to implement a solution?

Item 6 – ‘Evidence Gathering – Options and Success Criteria’

  1. The small groups then reconvened to discuss the framework and success criteria for further evidence gathering. The evidence gathering process needed to:
  • Be robust
  • Be clear on what its methods and measures are from outset.
  • Be framed in accordance with relevant best practice.
  • Be transparent.
  • Draw on statistically significant source material.
  • Take account of previous research.
  • Take account of the current landscape.
  • Contribute to our recommendations.
  • Understand the comparative value of various data sets.
  • Take appropriate account of foreign jurisdictions.
  • Take appropriate account of the private sector’s experience.

Recap of Progress and Actions

  1. The discussions would continue at the all day session on 18th July 2014 at the BIS conference suite, 1 Victoria Street.