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Forum Home  →  Discussion  →  Access to justice and advice sector issues  →  Thread

Threats of violence to third parties

UB40
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Debt Advice + Community Money Advice Launceston

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I’m looking at what other organizations do when a client threatens violence against a third party, for instance a Jobcentre worker or a bailiff. If the client insists on that course of action and there is likely to be an incident. Any experiences would be welcome.

Helen Rogers
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Welfare rights officer - Stockport MBC

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I’ve passed on information about a client’s risk to others a few times.  This has been to Jobcentre, ATOS and Tribunals Service.  The risk has always been in the context of a mental health condition.  And there has always been an ulterior motive, eg getting Claimant Commitment changed, asking for face to face medical to be done as a paper report (in days before telephone assessments came in.)  Even without the ulterior motive, I feel it would be good practice to share this kind of information.  I’m not actually sure how I’d tackle this if a mental health condition wasn’t the cause of the risk.

Interestingly, in the case of the Jobcentre risk, I had to go all the way to the DWP Regional Safeguarding Lead before anyone took any notice.

Va1der
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Important to realise that you’re also talking about a breach of confidentiality (and trust). Most organisations will have a section about this in their health and safety procedures - generally the first step is reporting to a manager or other senior staff. Only in extreme situations should anyone make a decision on this alone - and in those situations the response is generally to phone the police immediately.

There should be a consideration for at least 3 key factors:

1. Intent. I.e. differentiate between idle threats and ‘I know X gets off work at 5, and I’m gonna be hiding behind their car’.
2. Ability. Whether someone has a weapon. History of violent crime etc.
3. Urgency. You might have more options for intervention if there is time to contact, say, their support worker to talk them down.

I’m not sure I fully agree with Helen re good practice. Data protection legislation (and ethics?) dictates that we fundamentally aim to share information where it is in the individual’s objective best interest - that generally means that the bar to share is quite high, because it protects their rights to privacy and control of (sensitive) information.

You could try talking to the client as a first step, though this line of action depends heavily on what you are comfortable/experienced with. Something to get training on.

Helen Rogers
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A risk to someone’s health/safety is a circumstance when you can break confidentiality.
I suppose by good practice I’m thinking of what I would like someone to tell me about a client if they are referring them to me.

EJ
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In our Data Protection Policy, there is a “one-off exemption” route where the primary reason for disclosure is to prevent or detect crime.
- Or has your client expressed their intents with an explicit wish that you share the information with the organisation?  Any clients I’ve had to help out with this have given a verbal consent that I should send through a warning, and, as above, it’s always been down to mental health issues.
It sounds like it’s going to need careful handling

Va1der
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Helen Rogers - 27 May 2022 04:21 PM

A risk to someone’s health/safety is a circumstance when you can break confidentiality.
I suppose by good practice I’m thinking of what I would like someone to tell me about a client if they are referring them to me.

Maybe splitting hairs, but I think the distinction is important: ‘Perceived’ risk to health/safety is a circumstance where you can ‘consider’ breaking confidentiality.
My main point for UB40’s questions is just that there should be a second opinion consulted before a breach is made.

I also think what we’re fundamentally talking about here are situations where we might share information with third parties whose primary purpose might not be preserving our clients’ best interests.
That is an important distinction both for the wellbeing of our clients, and for how likely they are to object to the breach.

Mike Hughes
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I’d go with the majority view here. Not only has there always been an exemption - a legitimate breach of confidentiality - but decisions on threats often need to be made quickly. If opportunities to discuss arise and are practical then yes you exhaust those but if they’re not then you don’t hang around and wait. You disclose.
Looking at history is dangerous territory to some extent. You can’t ignore it but nor can it be used to not act e.g. “this person has no history of violence and thus isn’t as much a risk as someone who does” is a very dangerous path to walk. Generally speaking the law protects you as well as you might hope in such circumstances.

Hang around long enough and you’ll have multiple cases like this and, ultimately, the general principle of “if in doubt then act” holds good.

I take the point re: potential breach of trust but my personal experience over the years has been that advisers tend to wring their hands far more than clients do. A client with paranoid tendencies would view your actions through the prism of their paranoia regardless. A client who you have just prevented from doing something terrible to themselves or others will often come back and thank you further down the line.

UB40
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Debt Advice + Community Money Advice Launceston

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Many thanks to everyone who has contributed valuable advice here.