Case study – Misleading question on an application form to join a professional body

We were recently contacted by an individual who had some concerns about the question relating to criminal convictions on the application form to join a professional body. The question asked:

‘I have been convicted of a criminal offence       Yes / No’

The organisation stated that they would be carrying out a standard Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check, however we didn’t believe that the question they were asking made it clear that applicants did not need to disclose ‘protected’ cautions or convictions.

We contacted the professional body to raise our concerns about the misleading question and explained that due to the way the question was worded, applicants could disclose more information than the professional body was legally entitled to know about.

As we received no response from the professional body we forwarded the matter to the Information Commissioners Office (ICO) as we felt that potentially, the professional body could be in breach of the Data Protection Act by processing and storing data unlawfully.

Several weeks later, we were contacted by the professional body who apologised for not responding to us. They informed us that they had amended their application form. It stated:

‘I have been convicted of a criminal offence       Yes / No

 

Please note that you do not need to disclose protected convictions that are filtered from a standard or enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check.’

We felt that the question was probably as clear and concise as it could be.

Lessons

This case demonstrates how professional bodies often believe that the questions they are asking are very clear when in fact, due to changes in legislation, they can be quite misleading. This may result in applicants over disclosing and the professional body potentially breaching the Data Protection Act.

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Notes about this case study

This case study relates to our work with other organisations.

Names and details have been changed to protect the identity of those involved.

 

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