Government demands non-profit clients' personal data before releasing funds

Social service agencies like the Salvation Army, whose volunteers are shown in this file photo, are worried that the ...
JODI YEATS/FAIRFAX NZ

Social service agencies like the Salvation Army, whose volunteers are shown in this file photo, are worried that the Government's requirement to provide client data will deter vulnerable people from seeking help.

The Privacy Commissioner is investigating the Government's demand for client information in exchange for funds, after non-profit groups raised concerns.

The Ministry of Social Development's (MSD) new requirement for non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to supply identifying client information has blindsided non-profit groups.

Every person accessing MSD-funded services must agree to share their personal details – including their name, address, gender, date of birth, primary ethnicity, iwi, as well as dependents' names, dates of birth and relationships to client – for the funding to be released.

NGOs are adamant this requirement was not made obvious in the tender process.

Privacy commissioner spokesman Charles Mabbett said the office had launched an inquiry into the Government's personal-data collection after being approached by concerned NGOs.

Salvation Army spokesperson Major Pam Waugh said the charity was disappointed by the new requirement, which had created some unrest.

"We need to protect our client's trust in us as an agency and this may be eroded if clients feel we are collaborating with Government," she said.

Brenda Pilott, chairwoman of NGO community-group collective ComVoices, said MSD released a broad statement that "could have meant anything and then the next thing we see is a clause in a contract".

But MSD chief executive Murray Edridge said the new requirement was detailed in the Community Investment Strategy in June 2015 and "formed a key part of our presentations to providers nationwide".

Pilott said ComVoices was concerned people would "walk out the door" instead of giving up their personal details.

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"There have been quite a substantial number of people who are saying 'No, I don't want my information passed on'.

"People who have been dealing with sexual abuse or mental health issues or drug and alcohol addictions, those who have been offending, but haven't been arrested, or been violent," she said.

"Those are the very people you want most to get into the system and they are the very people who are most likely to actually not access the service.

"We would have thought that voluntarily help-seeking behaviour is something you'd want to encourage before things get to the point where there's an arrest or a charge or a violent occasion or a child is harmed."

A solo mother-of-three, who did not wish to be named, said she would happily supply her name, but no more than that.

It would stop a lot of people coming forward and many people were already embarrassed to be reaching out, she said.

Edridge said the ministry's Community Investment Strategy was the catalyst for the change as it wanted to ensure decision-making on spending $320 million of taxpayers' money each year was based on fact and "not intuition".

Collecting client data helped MSD understand who was using the programmes and services it funded and what impacts they were having, he said.

Pilott said the ministry could use anonymous data to learn this information.

Waugh and Pilott said they were not convinced MSD had robust privacy protocols and practices in place, but Edridge said fears about data security were "unfounded".

The Privacy Commissioner's office said its report would be released by the end of March.

 - Stuff

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