Posted on 22nd December 2015

A difficulty commonly found by applicants and legal representatives alike when dealing with immigration applications or other claims against public authorities is a lack of historic documentation. Whether because copies were not kept when applying in the past, or documents have been lost or not returned by the Home Office or previous representatives, an application can be harmed by the inability to access old material.

The Data Protection Act 1998 contains, at section 7, a right of access to your personal data held by an individual or organisation. Specifically, it provides for a person to be told whether personal data is held and if so, a description of what is held. The applicant is also to be given a description of the purpose for which their personal data is being or is to be processed, and the recipients or classes of recipients to whom that personal data may be disclosed. There is also a right to have communicated to you in a form you can understand the information which constitutes your personal data and any information as to the source of that data.

There are various exceptions to the requirement of the data processor to disclose this information to you which are described in the Data Protection Act, but in practical terms, in the context of applications to public authorities such as the Home Office for immigration, the applicant will mot likely receive a copy of everything held. There may be parts redacted which do not amount to your personal data, which is usual. The application must be made by or on behalf of the individual concerned, as there is no power to seek the personal data of another without their permission.

This should provide a copy of past application forms and documentation, as well as the internal computer records held you, which can provide a valuable insight into the thoughts of the decision-maker in granting or refusing past applications, enabling you to address weaknesses in applying afresh.

As far as immigration is concerned, a form is provided on the Gov.uk website at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/requests-for-personal-data-uk-visas-and-immigration

Further guidance is provided with the form. An application must be accompanied by a cheque or postal order for £10, payable to ‘the Home Office Accounting Officer’, enough personal information to identify you, like a copy of your passport or driver’s licence, original utility bills and your Home Office reference number if you have one, and an original, signed authority from the person you are applying for if on behalf of someone else (a copy of this authority is not acceptable). If applying in relation to a child aged under 12, there is no need to provide a signed authority – instead evidence that you are the legal guardian of the child is required. A separate application is required for each person making a request. The address for immigration requests is:

Subject Access Request Unit
UK Visas and Immigration
Lunar House
40 Wellesley Road
Croydon
CR9 2BY

Similar processes exist for other government departments, described on the Gov.uk website. The availability of past information will improve the ability of the legal representative to assist you and the right to subject access should be utilised wherever possible.

This article was written by No5 Chambers Barrister, Mark Bradshaw.

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