The Department for Work and Pensions’ policies for retaining and processing personal data which reveal its customers as transgender violate the right to respect for private life under the European Convention on Human Rights because they are not sufficiently clear, precise or accessible.
In a landmark legal case, a 44-year old from Greater London challenged the legality of the DWP’s systems for handling personal information which discloses that she is transgender. “C” – who cannot be named for legal reasons – maintains that, as someone who is long-term unemployed, it is simply not relevant for her local job centre staff to know that she used to be male. C’s barrister, Claire McCann, had told the High Court that C’s previous gender should be forgotten except where it was strictly necessary because the right to be treated as a woman and not as transgender was important and deserving of respect.
The DWP retains its customers’ details on an extensive citizens’ database, the “Customer Information System”, which contains the personal data for nearly 100 million individuals, including those who are deceased. Some of this personal data, including gender data, is retained for 50 years and 1 day after the death of the customer.
The High Court has today ruled that the DWP’s policies for retaining data which identifies someone as transgender are discriminatory and breach privacy rights.
C’s solicitor, Salima Budhani, of leading London law firm Bindmans, commented:
“Whilst my client welcomes the court’s ruling, the judgment shows that much remains to be done to protect the privacy and dignity of this often marginalised group. The Judge found that the DWP’s policies on which it relies as authority to retain this most personal information for what is essentially an indefinite period are incoherent and inaccessible. He accepted our evidence that a third policy detailing measures put in place by the DWP in an attempt to protect the centrally recorded gender change information gives rise to problems for transgender benefits customers - including the very effect that it intends to avoid: drawing attention to their trans status. This leaves my client and thousands of other transgender benefits recipients in an acutely vulnerable position, particularly in their interactions with local job centre staff who may come to know about their trans status when it is simply not relevant to the administration of their benefits”.
Read the full Judgment here
Read the article published in the Solicitors Journal here