At Mid & East Antrim Community Advice Services (MEACAS) we collect and use your personal information to help solve your problems, improve our services, and tackle wider issues in society that affect people’s lives.
We only ask for the information we need. We always let you decide what you’re comfortable telling us, explain why we need it and treat it as confidential.
When we record and use your personal information, we:
- only access it when we have a good reason
- only share what is necessary and relevant
- don’t sell it to anyone
At times we might use or share your information without your permission. If we do, we’ll always make sure there’s a legal basis for it. This could include situations where we must use or share your information:
- to comply with the law – for example, if a court orders us to share information. This is called ‘legal obligation’
- to protect someone’s life – for example, sharing information with a paramedic if a client was unwell at our office. This is called ‘vital interests’
- to carry out our legitimate aims and goals as a charity – for example, to create statistics for our local and national research. This is called ‘legitimate interests’
- or us to carry out a task where we’re meeting the aims of a public body in the public interest – for example, delivering a government or local authority service. This is called ‘public task’
- to carry out a contract we have with you – for example, if you’re an employee we might need to store your bank details so we can pay you. This is called ‘contract’
- to defend our legal rights – for example, sharing information with our legal advisors if there was a complaint that we gave the wrong advice
We handle and store your personal information in line with the law – including the UK General Data Protection Regulation (UKGDPR) and the Data Protection Act 2018.
How MEACAS collect your data
We’ll get your permission by asking you to either:
- sign a paper consent form
- tick a box online
- give consent via email
- give agreement over the phone – for example, if you call our Advice Line, Debt Line or Tribunal Line.
Before we ask for your permission, we will always explain how we use your information.
If you are using our service and you have been referred to us by another advice charity or referral partner, they will send us your information using a referral form. They will get your permission before sending us your information.
We will collect your data via a client record form which you will complete on paper or over the phone depending on how you contact the service. This information is then transferred onto our electronic case management system Advice Pro, and you are allocated a case reference number.
We are legally entitled to process your personal data only when you have consented for us to do so. To ensure we have your consent, that it has been freely given and is a specific, informed, unambiguous indication of your wishes, and that it is properly recorded, we will ask you to sign a client permission & consent form which has been designed for this purpose. This form is then uploaded to your client record in Advice Pro and the paper copy confidentially destroyed.
What Information does MEACAS ask for?
We will only ask for information that is relevant to your problem. Depending on what you want help with, this might include:
- your name and contact details – so we can keep in touch with you about your case
- your date of birth – some benefits are specific to age, and this helps us determine those that are applicable to your case. Our calculator asks for a date of birth when carrying out a benefit check. Your date of birth is also used to confirm that we are speaking with you when we are following up on your case
- your National Insurance Number – we ask for this for both benefit-related queries where we may need to call the benefits agency on your behalf and as a security measure should you or we need to follow up on your case, to ensure that it is you, the client, that we are speaking to. We will always ask your permission before we make any calls on your behalf.
- personal information – for example about family, work, or financial circumstances
- details about services you get that are causing you problems – like energy or post
- details of items or services you’ve bought, and traders you’ve dealt with
Special Category Data
We need your explicit consent to use some information, including your ethnicity, religion, health conditions, sexual orientation, and trade union membership which are known as Special Category Personal Data.
If you agree, we will use this information, which is known as ‘special category personal data’ to:
- give you advice
- help us gather data to improve our service in a way that you can’t be identified (anonymised)
- support our research in a way that you can’t be identified (anonymised)
We’ll make sure all your information is kept safe in our secure case management system – Advice Pro.
What if I don’t want to give you my information or want to remain anonymous?
If you don’t want to give us certain information, you don’t have to. For example, if you want to stay anonymous, we will only record information about your problem and make sure you are not identified. This will not affect the advice or the service that you receive, however, if you need to follow up on your case then we won’t be able to as we will not be able to identify your case on our system. What the adviser will do is get the history of your case from you and then advise the next steps accordingly.
How will MEACAS use my data / information?
First and foremost your information will be used to provide you with advice. We also use information in a way that doesn’t directly identify you to understand how different problems are affecting society and to take action to tackle these problems. As this is used for research, it is kept separate from your case record.
Where you have given us your permission and contact details, we, or in some instances a trusted research partner, may contact you to ask you for feedback on the service you received and your overall experience of MEACAS.
We only access your information for other reasons if we really need to – for example:
- for training and quality purposes
- to investigate complaints
- to get feedback from you about our services
- to help us improve our services
All advisers and staff accessing data have had data protection training to make sure your information is handled sensitively and securely.
Working on your behalf
When you give us authority to act on your behalf, for example, to help you with a benefit claim by calling a benefits office or by making a referral to a referral partner for further support or specialist support, we will need to share relevant information with that third party to progress your case with them and we will only do this with your consent.
We may share information with Benefits Offices/Departments, Food Banks or other Charities, Money Advice Service, Tribunal Appeal Courts, and Creditors as applicable and again only with your consent.
How MEACAS will store your information
Whether you get advice face to face, over the phone, by email or webchat, our adviser will log all your information, correspondence, and notes about your problem into our secure electronic case management system Advice Pro. Advice Pro is accessed by MEACAS and external assessors only for auditing purposes. Paper copies of your data may also be stored securely and have restricted access. Some of your information might also be kept within our secure email and IT systems.
We keep your information for 6 years. If your case has been subject to a serious complaint, insurance claim or other dispute we keep the data for 16 years.
Tax Credits Forms of Authority are kept for 7 years as required by HMRC.
Our case management system, Advice Pro is hosted within the UK and your data is securely stored in the UK within a robust, secure operations centre compliant with the Information Security Code of Practice ISO27001, and automatically backed up daily.
Our trusted partners store their data securely within the UK & European Economic Area (EEA) in line with data protection law.
There might be other places we store your information, depending on how you accessed our advice.
If you contact us for email advice
Emails between you and your adviser are stored within the local MEACAS Office 365 email system and email threads will be uploaded to your case record and these emails are deleted from the system upon upload or onward referral.
If you get advice over the phone
When you call, can select option 6 on our phone menu to listen to a recorded message telling you how we use and store your information – you can let the adviser know if you disagree.
If you call us, and we are unable to answer your call, you will not be redirected to a voicemail service on the main Advice Line if you contact the Debt Team or the Appeals Team you have the option to leave a message. This message is deleted from the system once the adviser retrieves it to call you.
Who’s responsible for looking after your personal information?
We store advice client information on Advice Pro, which is a fully managed, secure web-based case management system. The client data in Advice Pro is held within the UK in a secure data centre compliant with the Information Security Code of Practice ISO27001.
All other electronic data is stored on our own internal servers except where we use third party services and cloud services, such as SurveyMonkey for collecting training evaluations. Where data is held in hardcopy it is stored in secure filing systems and no unauthorised personnel have access to them.
How does MEACAS share your information?
We will generally not share information without your permission unless required to do so by law or in some very limited situations like to protect you or someone else from serious harm.
If a particular service involves sharing your information without permission, we will always let you know upfront that it isn’t confidential.
We use some information to create statistics about whom we are helping and what problems are the most common. This information is always anonymised, and you cannot be identified in any way. We share these statistics with funders, regulators, and government departments and publicly on our blogs, reports, social media, and press releases. The statistics also inform our social policy research, campaigns, or media work.
We may also share data with third parties for satisfaction monitoring and quality monitoring purposes.
If we are concerned about your or someone else’s safety
If something you’ve told us makes us think you or someone you know might be at serious risk of harm, we may inform the police or social services and were possible we will inform you of this. E.g. if we think you might hurt yourself or someone else.
How to contact MEACAS about your information
If you have any questions about how your information is collected or used, you can contact our Head Office in Ballymena or speak to a member of staff in your local office. We have offices in Ballymena, Carrickfergus, and Larne.
Our Head Office address is as follows:
Mid & East Antrim Community Advice Services
4 Wellington Court
What if I have a question about how my information has been used?
You can contact us to:
- find out what personal information we hold about you
- correct your information if it’s wrong, out of date or incomplete
- request we delete your information
- ask us to limit what we do with your data – for example, ask us not to share it if you haven’t asked us already
- ask us to give you a copy of the data we hold in a format you can use to transfer it to another service
- ask us to stop using your information
You can find out more about your data rights on the Information Commissioner’s website – www.ico.org.uk
If you want to make a complaint
If you’re not happy with how we’ve handled your data, you can contact our Data Controller / Data Protection Officer at our Head Office at the address above.