Accessing my personal information
Explains your rights to see and have copies of your personal information, and how to complain if access to your records is refused or if what is written about you is wrong.
How to access your personal records
This page covers the following information about accessing your personal records:
To get copies of your records from an organisation, you almost always need to make a request in writing. This is called a subject access request (SAR).
A subject access request can be:
- an email or a letter requesting copies of your records
- spoken, such as over the phone or by asking in person
- a standard form that an organisation may have for requesting access to records
- a non-standard form, such as through an organisation’s website or social media account – for example Facebook or Twitter.
When preparing your subject access request, make sure to:
- Think about exactly what you want to see. For example your social services records for a particular period of time, or medical records held by a particular doctor.
- Provide enough detail about the records you wish to see. If your request is too vague, the organisation might ask you to be more specific. This could cause a delay in getting the information you want.
- Avoid asking for information that is too general. Although you can ask for 'all information that the Council holds about me', you may end up with information that is not relevant. It might be better to ask for all records held by a particular service or department – for example 'all of my social services records' or 'a copy of my personnel file'. It's a good idea to mention that you’re making a subject access request under the Data Protection Act 2018.
After preparing your subject access request, you could:
- Send your request by recorded delivery or email. This will mean that you have proof of the date your request was sent. You should also keep a copy of your letter or request form, and any other relevant correspondence. This will be important evidence if you need to make a complaint.
- Provide proof of identity. The organisation needs to make sure that you are who you say you are. You might be asked for a photocopy of your passport, driving license or a utility bill. However, if the person you make the request to knows you well, you shouldn't need to provide detailed proof of your identity.
Under equality law, organisations have a legal duty to make their services accessible. Your mental health problem might make it impossible, or unreasonably difficult, for you to make a request in writing. In this case, an organisation may have to make a reasonable adjustment to its normal data protection policy.
Organisations have one calendar month to respond to your subject access request, starting from the day they receive it.
If the organisation thinks that your request is very complicated, then it can extend this period to three months. In this case, they must write to you to explain why the extension is necessary.
The organisation can pause the one-month response period if they need to:
- see your proof of identity
- confirm details about the information you want, if it is not clear.
Organisations are not allowed to charge a fee for supplying your data unless your request is manifestly unfounded or excessive.
If an organisation decides it is appropriate to charge you for an excessive request, the amount must be based on how much it will cost them to fulfil your request.
- Think about the personal information you wish to see.
- Identify which organisation holds this.
- Check their website or call them to find out who to send the subject access request to, whether the organisation has a standard form, and what proof of identification the organisation needs.
- Draft your subject access request letter or complete the form, if the organisation has one.
- Send to the relevant contact at the organisation with proof of identification. Ideally, send the request by recorded delivery or email so that you can keep track of it.
- Keep a dated copy of the letter or subject access request form you have sent.
- Put the deadline for them to get back to you in your diary – this will be one calendar month after receipt by the organisation.
Tip: If you can send appropriate proof of identity at the same time as making your request, it should make the process quicker.
Audrey experiences severe anxiety and depression. She also has a diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis.
For some years now, Audrey has received support from social services with daily living tasks, including bathing, managing her money and getting out and about in the community.
Her package of care has recently been cut by social services. Audrey has an advocate who is going to assist her with making a complaint about this.
The advocate has suggested that it would be a good idea for Audrey to get copies of her social services records. Audrey has received support from social services for the past 15 years, so her records are likely to be extensive.
The decision to cut her care package was made six weeks ago. Audrey will need to see the records that relate to this decision. As well as this, there will probably be relevant records from before the date of the decision. However, she is unlikely to need copies of her social services records in their entirety.
Audrey could make a request for copies of her social service records from the past six months. She may not need to provide proof of identity if she makes the request to her social worker, as her social worker knows her well.
An advocate is a person who can both listen to you and speak for you in times of need. Having an advocate can be helpful in situations where you are finding it difficult to make your views known, or to make people listen to them and take them into account.
See our pages on advocacy for more information.Visit our full listing of Legal Terms
These are changes that:
- organisations and people providing services and public functions
- education providers like universities and colleges
- managers of properties like landlords
- clubs and associations
should make for you if you are at a major disadvantage because of your mental health problems and it is reasonable.
Examples of reasonable adjustments include:
- making changes to the way things are organised or done
- making changes to the built environment, or physical features like steps or doorways around you
- providing aids and services for you.
Data Protection Act 2018
The Data Protection Act 2018 is the law that sets out how organisations must handle and process your information. It also gives you rights to access and correct personal information held about you.Visit our full listing of Legal Terms
This information was published in November 2021. We will revise it in 2024.
References are available on request. If you would like to reproduce any of this information, see our page on permissions and licensing.