The Data Protection Act 1998 Complaint form

You should only use this form to report complaints about possible breaches of the Data Protection Act 1998. Do not fill in this form until you have read the booklet ‘Data Protection Act 1998 – when and how to complain’. If you need help to fill in this form, please contact our Helpline on 0303 123 1113. 1. Your details Title: Professor First name: Bill (William) Other names: Michael Last name: Cooke Address: Postcode: Daytime telephone: Fax: Email: 2. Previous contact with the ICO Please provide any reference number we have already given you.

This will help us to process your complaint. I do not have a reference number. This is the first time I have contacted you.

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3. Have you given anyone else permission to speak to us about your complaint? If so, please give details. Title: First name: Other names: Last name: Address: Postcode: Telephone: Fax: Email: What is their relationship to you?

4. Who do you want to complain about? (Usually an organisation.) Name: Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) Address: 12th Floor, Centre Point 103 New Oxford Street LONDON Postcode: WC1A 1DD Telephone: 02074202200 Email: Website:

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5. Your relationship with the organisation Please describe this relationship, for example, employee, customer, account holder. I am a member of a university's research staff. HEFCE will be assessing me on a personal basis through the "REF". I am responsible for providing personal data for myself, and for members of the Department I head, for HEFCE to assess, according to its instructions and templates. Please give any relevant reference numbers they have given you, for example, patient number, account number.

6. Details of the problem Please give details of your complaint, explaining what you think the organisation has done wrong, attaching extra sheets if necessary. Do not just refer us to your supporting documents. HEFCE is conducting the Research Excellence Framework of Universities in the England. Embedded in this is an evaluation of every individual "research active" member of university staff. Each "research active" member of staff has to submit their "four best" academic outputs for consideration by a panel. HEFCE recognize that to be excluded from university returns (ie be categorised as not "research active") will cause harmful career consequences, and indeed this is the case in universities. HEFCE also recognizes there may be "exceptional" or "special circumstances" which mean that individuals will not have been able to complete 4 outputs in the period required. The most obvious is parental leave; but quite rightly, they also identify other circumstances like sexual harrassment, bereavement, ill health, physical and mental, partner serious illness, and gender reassignment. HEFCE expects universities to take these into account in determining exclusion and inclusion. To help, they have commissioned an organization called ECU to produce a list of case studies of special circumstances, which is attached as a pdf file. In order to enact the tariff, they require Universities to set up a process of data collection in which people disclose the special circumstances that apply to them, and then have a tariff applied. HEFCE provides a template-form for staff to complete, attached here as "HEFCE special circumstances". Staff are required to say that they " I have no individual circumstances that I wish to be taken into
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consideration for the purposes of the Research Excellence Framework (REF). ", or to declare those circumstances.

That form requires, the individual to agree to their data being forwarded to HEFCE, to it being considered by a HEFCE panel of their peers, and possibly, if research has been in collaboration with another university, to that university. The problem for HEFCE is that it is right, the REF cannot be fair in the way it is set up without taking individual circumstances into account. But the data it requires is disproportionate and intrusive, not just for University employees, but for family members who do not work for the University, and, in some cases may work for another University and choose not to disclose. The exemplar in the ECU-Tarriff is a case of Professor Obabanjo, whose wife has MS. Clearly, because of the way the REF works, Professor Obabanjo will be disadvantaged, perhaps to the point of losing his job or change in contract terms if he does not disclose. But his wife may not want that. She may, for example, also be Professor Obabanjo at another University, and chosen not to have disclosed there. This is just an exemplar of the problems. To withhold consent to providing this data, whether on the individual or the family member (assuming she or he is asked), will by definition subject that individual to worse consequences than if the consent has been given. This is the raison d'etre of this data collection process. Furthermore, this process seems to be wholly inconsistent with the principles of necessity and proportionality. HEFCE may feel that their REF is so important that it requires this intrusion. I would dispute that, but ultimately, the point is moot. If the point of the Framework is to assess institutions this can be done without gathering data on named individuals. The ECU website does instruct institutions to make sure they follow ICO guidelines, and the template form attached does appear to contain instructions consistent with Data Protection, for example Privacy Statements. But these do not address the point of necessity, proportionality; and indeed they compound the problem by cloaking the implicit coercion with ICO legitimacy. This is not an arcane argument. As a Head of Department, I have been instructed to tell departmental members that they need to complete forms.[DETAILS REDACTED HERE] My problem in pursuing this as an individual is that I have no relationship with HEFCE; my employer does. HEFCE offers no means for the individuals it assesses to challenge its processes. And the relationship between my University and its funder is very sensitive, and I cannot bypass it without potentially causing trouble for it and me.

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7. When did you first become aware of the problem? We will not normally contact the organisation if there has been a delay of more than one year. Approximately two weeks ago.

8. Supporting documents We will not be able to investigate your complaint unless you provide us with: copies of documents describing what has happened; and copies of correspondence between you and the organisation or individual concerned trying to solve the problem. If you only have paper copies of this correspondence you will need to print this form and post it to us along with your supporting documents.

Send only documents that are directly relevant to your complaint. If you send us too many or irrelevant documents we may send them back and ask you to return only the relevant ones. In the unlikely event that you need to send a large amount of documents, please clearly mark the relevant parts. If you do not, we may return them and ask you to do this. You should also send us copies of relevant correspondence between you and any other organisation (for example, Citizens Advice, an industry regulator or ombudsman) trying to solve the problem.

9. Important information about your supporting documents Any paper documents will be scanned and held as electronic records. In most cases, we will destroy the paper documents you send us after six months. You should only send us copies of these documents and make sure you keep the originals in case we need these later on. If you cannot provide us with copies and you would like us to return your documents, please check this box
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You will need to make it clear each time you send us something if you would like us to return it to you.

10. Please list the supporting documents you are sending to support your complaint. This will help us check we have all the information you sent us. Do not just write 'see attached'. In the spirit of attaching few documents, I enclose only two. 1)The "exceptional circumstances" form, a .doc file whose title begins "template-individual-circumstances" 2) The tariff guideline cases of "exceptional circumstances". a .pdf file The documentation on HEFCE and ECU websites is immensely complex, and it would be difficult, if not impossible, to appreciate that the operation of the REF and its data collection are as in 6) above. But they are.

11. Declaration By sending this form I confirm that; I understand that during any necessary investigations, you may need to disclose the details I have provided to the subject of my complaint to allow them to make a proper response. I have clearly indicated any information which I do not want you to pass on. To the best of my knowledge I have given you accurate information relating to this complaint. I understand that your policy is to destroy documents relating to complaints after six months. I have clearly indicated those documents that you should not destroy and should return to me. I have listed all the documents I am sending with this form. I have read 'The Data Protection Act 1998 - When and how to complain' leaflet and understand that you cannot award compensation. Please check to confirm Are you the person named in section one of this form? Please Select If no, please make sure your details are provided in section three of this form and check this box to confirm you have the permission of the complainant to act on their behalf
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12. Sending your complaint to us: By email If all your supporting documents are available electronically please attach them to your email along with this form and send to By post If you only have paper copies of some of the supporting documents you need to send us, please print this complaint form and post it, along with all your supporting documents to: Customer Services Team Information Commissioner’s Office Wycliffe House Water Lane Wilmslow Cheshire SK9 5AF.

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