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CONFIDENTIALITY POLICY
Student Support Office
University of Essex

1. Confidentiality Statement

Student Support at the University of Essex is committed to providing a confidential service to students. Student Support believes all students have the right to confidentiality to protect their interests and ensure a relationship of trust between student and advisers.

2. Definition of Confidentiality

Student Support understands confidentiality to mean that no information regarding a student shall be shared with any other department of the University, or any external agency or person, without that student’s prior, expressed consent; except where issues of safety or legality apply (see Section 5). Information may occasionally be shared indirectly with Information Support Systems or the Planning Office for the purposes of maintaining systems. 

Furthermore, we acknowledge that students are autonomous adults and so will not discuss any details of a student’s case with his/her parents, or other family members, unless prior consent has been obtained from the student in line with the university policy on contact with third parties:
http://www.essex.ac.uk/records_management/policies/third_party_contact.aspx. Records of all such contact will be kept on the student’s file.

3. Expressed Consent to Share Information

It is the responsibility of Student Support staff to ensure that they obtain consent in writing, ordinarily through signing the ‘Student Support Confidentiality Agreement,’ before sharing any information or taking any action on behalf of a student. The written consent will be held in Student Support files. Students abroad or unable to come in person to Student Support may make alternative arrangements in exceptional circumstances.

If a student chooses not to give consent for information to be shared, this decision will be respected, except where issues of safety or legality apply (see Section 5). However, the student should understand this may limit the kinds of support that are available to them.

4. Information Shared Within the Student Support Office

Where necessary, information may be shared between the different members of Student Support (which includes the Residents’ Support Network). Files are held centrally and can be accessed by all members of Student Support although it is expected that staff access student information on a ‘need to know’ basis.

The Wellbeing Service, although part of Student Support, offers some enhanced confidentiality and has an additional confidentiality policy to ensure that Wellbeing Practitioners can adhere to ethical and professional guidelines.  Information shared with Wellbeing Practitioners will not normally be shared with other members of Student Support without prior consent except where issues of safety or legality apply.

5. Occasions When Information May Be Shared

Student Support recognises that occasions may arise where individual advisers feel that information needs to be shared; for example, by contacting the Health Centre or an emergency contact. The circumstances where this may apply could include:

  • If there is good reason to believe that you, or someone else, may be at risk of serious harm, information may be disclosed to third parties outside of the service.  This could include the Director, or Deputy Directors, of Student Support, an external agency or person - for example the Health Centre.

  • If there is a child protection concern.

  • If required by a court of law to provide information.

  • If you make a formal complaint or an appeal to the University citing your contact with Student Support.

However, unless the situation was an emergency, we would always seek to discuss any proposed disclosure with you in advance to try and obtain your consent. 

On those occasions where a member of staff feels information needs to be shared, the following steps will be taken:

The adviser will raise the matter immediately with their Line Manager and discuss the issues involved including why they feel information needs to be shared. The Line Manager and adviser will agree on a course of action and a written record of the discussion will be made.

The Line Manager will inform the Director of Student Support or a Deputy Director of Student Support.

If the Line Manager and adviser do not agree, the ultimate decision is to be made by the Director, or as an alternate, a Deputy Director.       

In all circumstances the student involved will be informed, as far as practicable, of the decision to share information and the reasons why the decision has been taken.

6. Data Protection Act

The University has a notification under the Data Protection Act 1998 to hold personal data about its students. All personal information in the University’s possession is managed in accordance with the Act and its principles. The University is committed to full compliance with the Act, as set out in the University-wide Data Protection Policy. All staff who process or who are likely to process personal data as part of their job are expected to adhere to this policy. Whilst the policy does not directly address the status of verbal information, the general principles of the Act would still apply and certainly any written notes arising from discussion are subject to the provisions of the Act. All students have a right to request a copy of their records.

While the Data Protection Act does enable students to give permission to the University to disclose information about them to third parties, the University is not then legally obliged to do so. Nothing in the Data Protection Acts states that the University must disclose data to a named third party. In short, just because we can, it does not mean we have to. Our position has been confirmed by the Office of the Information Commissioner
.

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