Confidential and Anonymous Reports

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Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Reports given in Confidence

3. Reports NOT received in Confidence

4. Disclosure of documents to customers

5. Removal of Confidential Report

6. Sender of Anonymous Report - Outcome Queries

1. Introduction

The Department's Control Policy aims to keep fraud and abuse to an absolute minimum. As part of this policy, Central Control Section accepts reports of possible fraud offered by members of the public in relation to the Department's schemes.

All reports are examined and where relevant, are referred to Scheme Owners and/or Inspectors.

2. Reports given in confidence

Reports of abuse (whether confidential, anonymous or otherwise) should be used by Scheme Areas and Inspectors as an indication of suitable lines of enquiry. However being "hearsay evidence" they have no weight as evidence and should not be kept on file.

The "trigger" for an investigation should not be divulged to the customer as reports of scheme abuse (whether confidential, anonymous or otherwise) can be only used as an indication of suitable lines of enquiry.

The allegation must either be proved independently by obtaining sufficient evidence or by obtaining an admission from the customer before reporting to the Deciding Officer.

If putting information to the customer obtains an admission, then it is this admission that forms the necessary evidence. However, in putting this information to the customer, it should not be disclosed that it was as a result of an anonymous report.

In some instances, members of the public who make reports in confidence, will give their identity for contact purposes in support of the investigation of the case. It is imperative that confidentiality is maintained in such cases and their identity is not divulged to the customer.

If an investigation disproves the report, or fails to obtain sufficient evidence to substantiate it, no further action is required in respect of the allegation at that time and the report should be destroyed unless the investigation remains open.

3. Reports NOT received in Confidence

On occasion, information is received where the member of the public has given their identity and is willing to be confronted by the customer e.g. at an appeal hearing. In such cases the contents of the allegation can be referred to in the investigation of the case and in reporting to the Deciding Officer. In these circumstances the report can be left on file.

However, where possible sufficient direct evidence to prove whether the allegations are true should be obtained so that any decision will be based on such evidence and not solely on the third party evidence.

4. Disclosure of documents to customers

The Department undertakes to hold confidentially any information provided subject to the Departments obligations under law, including the Data Protection and Freedom of Information Acts.

A person is entitled under Natural Justice to obtain a copy of all relevant documents on his/her file that were relied upon by the deciding officer in reaching the decision. This allows the person make his/her case to the deciding officer or to prepare an appeal. Such documentation should be available to the person on request and does not require an application under the Freedom of Information Act.

Regarding the above point it is important to note that material received in confidence, having been withheld from the report submitted to the Deciding Officer, should not be disclosed as such material has not, nor could not, have had a direct bearing on the decision arrived at by either the Deciding Officer or Appeals Officer concerned.

The Information Commissioner found in FOI case 040365 that information which does not, directly or indirectly, identify a complaint may be disclosed i.e. section 26(1) (a) does not apply in relation to non identifying material contained in the records. It was the IC view that the non identifying material was not given on the understanding that it would be treated as confidential. In that case part of the typed letter sent in was released to the person whose claim was investigated.

Information which would identify the sended (e.g. handwriting in a letter) would be exempt from disclosure. Section 23(1) (b) applies to those portions of the records whose release could lead, directly or indirectly, to the identification of the complainant(s).

5. Removal of Confidential Report

As a result of this FOI case, and in order to ensure the public can be confident all anonymous reports are treated in strictest confidence, it is recommended that all anonymous report documents (excluding those mentioned at 3 above) should be destroyed after the investigation is complete unless specific circumstances of a particular case require the report be retained.

Any reference to an anonymous report containing allegations of abuse should not be available to the Deciding Officer when making a decision. The decision would be invalid under the rules of Natural Justice if the Deciding Officer (or Appeals Officer) was, or might appear to have been, influenced by information that was not disclosed to the customer, and which the customer had no opportunity to rebut.

6. Sender of Anonymous Report - Outcome Queries

Some members of the public who have made reports (anonymous, confidential or otherwise), on occasion, seek information on the outcome of the case. Section 2,1,C, (ii) the Data Protection Act 2003 precludes disclosure of the outcomes of investigations to third parties. Disclosure of such information must be refused under the provisions of the FOI Acts as this is considered the personal information of the customer to whom it relates.

Last modified:27/05/2010

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