Editorial

DLUHC reveals lack of data sharing on vulnerable people

A Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) report finds seven barriers to data sharing between local and central government.

Posted 22 August 2023 by Christine Horton


The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) has revealed a series of barriers to data sharing between local and central government.

It commissioned a report from software development consultancy Softwire to support the Better Outcomes through Linked Data (BOLD) programme, which aims to find ways to link and improve data to support vulnerable people.

DLUHC said it conducted research and interviews with key DLUHC stakeholders and with employees in a variety of job roles from 11 local councils across England.

“The key learnings and recommendations in this report will help DLUHC and local councils to tackle barriers to data sharing practices and facilitate better policy and service provision,” said Stephen Aldridge, chief economist & director for analysis and data, DLUHC.

“DLUHC remains committed to exploring solutions to enable better data usage and communications across central and local government. We are committed to continuing to develop our evidence base on the causes of and solutions to homelessness and rough sleeping, working with other government departments, local councils and expert advisers and charities across the sector to facilitate change.”

Barriers to data sharing

The seven main barriers to data sharing identified in the report are:

Legislation and legal concerns: More guidance, support and collaboration were requested from DLUHC around Data Sharing Agreements (DSAs). Fear of making the wrong decision as data controllers, and varying levels of risk appetite and experience present a significant barrier to some councils in signing DSAs.

Resource concerns: Data sharing initiatives were perceived as more burdensome by smaller local councils who have less funding and resource to engage with new data requests from DLUHC.

Logistical concerns: Logistical challenges related to collecting, cleaning, and inputting data into multiple systems, lack of IT system integration, compounded by a lack of resources and funding, can hinder local councils’ willingness to participate.

Privacy concerns and a lack of clarity on data usage: Lack of clarity and understanding around how personal information will be used presents a barrier to data sharing. Local councils also raised concerns about the wider impacts of participation, such as whether funding outcomes could be impacted or whether data could be used in relation to border enforcement and benefit claims.

Lack of clarity on the benefits of national data linking: Local councils expressed uncertainty about the benefits of central government-led, national level data linking versus local-led initiatives. There was also a general lack of understanding the benefit of sharing PI data, as the potential tangible outputs and outcomes are not made clear.

Relationship to central government: Trust and confidence are essential factors in the willingness to share data, and smaller councils outside of London often do not have close pre-existing relationships with central government, leading to lower levels of engagement.

Relevance to individual council employees’ roles: Individuals working in roles involving data protection were more likely to see the potential benefits of data sharing, while those more removed from strategic decisions were more hesitant and concerned about the logistical impact.

Recommendations

Softwire has proposed six recommendations for DLUHC to consider when seeking local council participation in future data sharing initiatives.

  • Define responsibility around DSAs (and broader legalities surrounding the initiative): DLUHC should take more responsibility for determining DSAs or assist local councils in doing so.
  • Communicate initiatives at the right level: DLUHC should work with key players in local councils and relevant forums to ensure that informed decisions are made at the appropriate level.
  • Articulate benefits of data sharing and linking and alleviate concerns over data use: Local councils need to understand the benefit of data sharing to them and to the end user and be reassured that concerns over the future use of data are taken into account.
  • Reciprocal data sharing and improved communication around outcomes: DLUHC should share outcomes of initiatives with local councils, so they can see the tangible benefits of data sharing.
  • Raise logistics, systems and data challenges into programme level initiatives: DLUHC should consider programme-level initiatives to improve system interoperability for data sharing, to simplify processes and reduce administrative burden.
  • Conduct further research for additional insights: DLUHC should consider conducting additional research, including with more local councils, to better understand the problem space and the extent to which each of the findings is applicable.

Cross government data sharing and linked data will be just some of the topics covered at the Data for Government conference on December 12. It is an in-person only event, and you can register here.