Council Tax Data Sharing Agreement
The Cabinet considered a report of Councillor Joyce Plummer, Portfolio Holder for Resources, informing Members that the Council had been asked to enter into a Data Sharing Agreement (DSA) with the Office for National Statistics (ONS) for the purpose of sharing Council Tax data to ensure the Council supported ONS to deliver an accurate population count in the latest Census 21 and future ONS general statistical returns.
Jane Ellis, Executive Director, Legal and Democratic Services, provided a brief introduction to the report. The Council had initially be reluctant to enter into a formal agreement around data sharing, but had reconsidered the matter in the light of the fact that most authorities had now done so. ONS had provided the necessary assurances around data security to the satisfaction of the Council.
Approval of the report was not a key decision.
Reasons for decision
Every decade the Office for National Statistics carried out a national Census and worked with local authorities to deliver a successful campaign encouraging the local community to participate to help plan for future needs, ensuring that big decisions facing the country were based on the best information possible.
The Census was a way the country could help plan its way out of a pandemic and help underpin economic benefits by providing accurate low lying data which was used in many aspects of lives e.g., statistics to support decision making, to steer policy, allocating resources, funding bids, education and planning services. Accordingly, it was beneficial that each area encouraged as many households as possible to complete the survey to provide an accurate picture and representation of their local area.
The Council had been asked to share its Council Tax data on a monthly basis with the ONS to help improve the accuracy and quality of the Census both locally and nationally by entering into a Data Sharing Agreement with the ONS. The ONS had also asked the Council to continue to share Council Tax data with it on an ongoing monthly basis once the work on the Census had concluded.
The DSA contained a list of variables that would need to be extracted from the Council’s Revenue and Benefit System, which would include information such as name, address, Council Tax band, amount paid, reduction, amount liable, disability reduction, exemption type, and empty or second home supplied to ONS on a monthly basis using extraction software called MoveIt. This would be managed on the authority’s behalf, unless the Council agreed to use a different software with ONS. Then, the Council Tax Data would be stored securely in ONS’s Data Access Platform (DAP) and would be de-identified at the earliest possible point by business areas who would use it.
Council Tax data would be key to quality assuring Census data. Moreover, in the longer-term term Council Tax data would be used to help ONS contribute towards statistics across many areas such as socio-economic indicators, housing stock, social mobility and so on. This would also enable ONS to produce timely, locally stratified data for councils across the country.
ONS would only use the data provided to produce anonymised statistics. There would be no direct impact at all on individual members of the public from the use of this data. Record level data would be used for data linkage, but this would be done by algorithms so personal data would not be seen by ONS researchers and statisticians, further minimising any risk to individuals.
Council Tax data would help support ONS to produce regular government statistical releases to inform policy-making decisions, provide mid-year population estimates, help to monitor the economy and was a primary measure of inflation. The data was also used by businesses, universities, the media and the public to monitor the Government's performance and gain a better understanding of the UK economy. At local authority level it helped the Council understand housing need, future housing growth and many more vital indicators involved in the whole decision making process and in steering future policy.
The reasons ONS required Council Tax data was because Personal Identifiable Information was required to enable ONS to link to other administrative data sources, which would allow the ONS to produce statistics beyond what was possible using Council Tax data in isolation. Names, for example, were one of the most important linkage variables that were used to ensure that agencies could have a high degree of confidence in the match, something that could not be achieved without using people’s names.
By linking datasets rather than treating them individually analysts could draw insights from across the data, which helped ONS find new patterns that otherwise might not be seen. The matching and linking was carried out by algorithms which meant that the names were not actually seen by ONS statisticians or researchers using the data, who received an aggregate or anonymised output.
The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) stated that Data Sharing Agreements were not intended to be legally enforceable – ‘drafting and adhering to an agreement does not in itself provide you with any form of legal indemnity from action under the data protection legislation or other law.’ It was, however, something that the ICO would take into account should either party make a complaint.
Data Sharing Agreements were created to provide clarification and understanding to what data was being shared, for what purpose and whether there was a lawful basis for doing so. It addressed legal concerns, but it did not enforce them.
The DSA was simply a memorandum of understanding with agreed steps for both parties to take. Once the Council data was passed to ONS they were responsible for the data. If there was ever a data breach or ONS broke GDPR guidelines, then the ICO would hold ONS to account. Accordingly, there was a legal enforcement route, albeit not between ONS and Hyndburn Borough Council directly. From the information supplied by the ONS, the ONS appeared to have appropriate data security measures in place.
The DSA was not specific to the Census and ONS would continue to collect data after the Census had been completed.
To date Council Tax data was already being submitted to the ONS on this basis and for these purposes by 313 councils.
Alternative Options considered and Reasons for Rejection/
If the Council did not agree to share the data there was a possibility of implications on the Local Authority being served with a Notice.
Under s45C Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007 (SRSA), the UK Statistics Authority had the power to issue a Notice on public authorities, in this instance Local Authorities (LAs), requiring them by law to share the information ONS were requesting in order to exercise our statistical functions. This differed from the current request for information under s45A SRSA, which allowed the LA to exercise their own discretion as to whether or not to share the information.
At present, non-mandatory data requested allowed for a degree of negotiation on the terms of data sharing and came with the added benefit of flexibility around submission dates. However, voluntary agreement was also suggested to avoid the risk of criminal liability for the Council and its staff which might arise if provision of the data was mandated.
Failure to comply with a Notice once it had been served constituted a criminal offence. Such an offence would have been committed not only by the local authority, but also by any officer of that local authority with responsibility for the breach (see sections 45F(4) and 45F(5)). Such an offence might or might not be prosecuted by the Crown Prosecution Service depending on the circumstances.
Resolved - That the Council enter into a Data Sharing Agreement with the Office for National Statistics (ONS) to share Council Tax data as outlined in the report provided, for the purpose of:
(a) assisting the ONS to deliver an accurate Census 2021 for Hyndburn; and
(b) setting a framework for the ongoing monthly supply of Council Tax data to the ONS to improve the quality and accuracy of ONS general statistical data and the locally stratified data relating to the Borough and its population.