Handling confidential information from students

There may be circumstances when you choose to share confidential information with your personal tutor or other staff at UCL. Find out how that information will be managed.

Confidential information is any information to which the common law ‘duty of confidence’ applies. Put simply, a duty of confidence is created when ‘private’ information has been passed on in such a way that the person receiving the information was aware, or should have been aware, that the information was being imparted on the basis of confidentiality.

Sharing information with your consent

The answer to this question will always depend on the circumstances but we will usually require your consent before confidential information can be shared, even within UCL. If you share some confidential information with a member of staff and they know that in order to help you or for UCL to provide you with support they will need to share the information, they will discuss this with you and seek your agreement before sharing anything.

Sharing information without your consent

There are specific circumstances where confidential information may be shared without your agreement. A disclosure can be made without consent:

  • when the vital interests of any person are threatened and the disclosure is made to a relevant, appropriate person
  • when it is in the public interest to do so and the disclosure is made to a relevant, appropriate person

Whenever an obligation of confidence is to be broken without consent, you should still be informed, unless to do so would endanger your or another person’s vital interests. In this context vital interests refers to a situation which would seriously affect your physical or mental health or wellbeing.

Involving others

Sometimes when you share confidential information about a problem you are encountering we may feel that involving someone else such as a parent or another person close to you would help you. However, if the information was provided in confidence we will not share this without your consent. Only where the circumstances are so severe that in order to protect your or someone else’s vital interests or where there is a public interest to do so could the information be disclosed to an appropriate person.

Duty of care

UCL has a duty of care to protect its staff and students from harm, as far as practicable and foreseeable. This duty of care extends to directing those in need to the appropriate support services and to encouraging them to take up the support available.

With your agreement, we can refer you to the appropriate services within Student Support and Wellbeing. However, you are under no obligation to agree to such disclosures and where you object, we will respect your decision, although this may limit our ability to offer you support.

Student of concern

There may be a time when someone is concerned about you and wishes to share their concern with Student Support and Wellbeing so that they can offer you appropriate support. In these circumstances information about you may be shared on a limited basis with appropriate people within UCL. However where the concern relates to information you have disclosed in confidence this will only be shared with your consent unless it is in your vital interests or there is a public interest to do so.

The Data Protection Act

Confidential information and personal data are not the same thing but they can interact, for example financial information about a business may have been provided in confidence but it is not personal data as it does identify an individual. Whilst information found within a medical record will be both confidential, due to the circumstances in which it was provided, and also sensitive personal data as defined by the Data Protection Act 1998.

Find out more about the data protection act at UCL