Collecting fathers’ contact details: what the law says

2 July 2010

Making sure your agency registers key information about all dads as a matter of course is a MUST. In fact for all agency staff to ROUTINELY gather such details is the single most important step to engaging with substantial numbers of young fathers.

But what if, as is often the case, your first contact is with the mum? Do you have the legal right to collect the father’s details from her (or, for instance, the details of grandparents or other carers)?

YES! You are legally permitted to record information the mother (or anyone else) gives you about the father (and any other carers) when they are not present AND when they haven’t already given their permission.

This is the case even if the mother and father are not married or cohabiting, and even if he doesn’t have Parental Responsibility.

This is covered by the same data protection law as covers credit cards: if you sign up for a store-card, for instance, the shop will usually ask you whether you want anyone else to have a card. If you say yes, they will take that person’s details – and simply send them a card . . .

The legal advice

The Fatherhood Institute and Fathers Plus (Children North-East) often get questions from practitioners worried they’re breaking the law if they collect, or keep, the details of a father given to them by a ‘third party’. So both our organisations have checked the legalities with: 1) DfE lawyers 2) Department of Health lawyers; and 3) The Information Commissioner’s Office (the UK’s independent authority set up to promote access to official information and to protect personal information).

This is what they have told us:

1. You can collect AND RECORD the father’s full contact details, and anything else you are told about him EVEN IF HE IS NOT PRESENT. If there isn’t room on the form supplied by, for example, your Local Authority, then it’s perfectly OK to hold these details in another file.
2. HOWEVER, when a ‘third party’ (usually the mum) gives you his details, you ask her to let the dad know she’s passed them on, and why she’s done this (e.g. so he can be sent information about his child’s progress or contacted if there’s a problem with his child). You can also give her a ‘Consent to Contact’ form to give him and return to you but this isn’t necessary.
3. When your agency (e.g. a Children’s Centre or a school or a statutory service) first contacts the dad, they must explain how they obtained his details – and the purpose of holding them. In fact, it’s good to do this shortly after you’ve received them: it’s a great reason to make contact with a father.
4. At this point, the father can ask that his details be removed. He is very unlikely to do this, especially if you explain how important he is to his child, and how good it is if you can keep him well informed.
5. You may need to reassure both him and the mum that you AREN’T going to pass his details on to any other government agency (such as benefits or child maintenance): holding his details is JUST for your own use, to keep him in the loop about his child.

Something to think about: low income dads tend to move around a lot, change their phone numbers, and so on. So once you’re in touch with him, get the name and number of a stable person who is always likely to know where he is. And remember that if you do that, then you need to explain to THEM that you’re holding THEIR details . . . and why . . .

For more information

If you want to check this information yourself, call the Information Commissioner’s Office Helpline on 01625 545745 or send them an email.

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