MSD to require individual client level data from community agencies

Mon 10 Oct 2016

The Ministry of Social Development (MSD) has stated that future contracts will require community agencies to provide individual client level ...

The Ministry of Social Development (MSD) has stated that future contracts will require community agencies to provide individual client level data.

The recently published MSD Community Investment Strategy Update 2016 states "Starting from July 2016, we will begin collecting individual client level data (client level data) from providers. We will do this progressively over the year, so that we are collecting client level data from all providers by July 2017." (page 15)

The update outlines what information MSD will require, stating "Client level data minimum requirements are as follows:

  • Client: Name, address, gender, date of birth, primary ethnicity, Iwi.
  • Dependents: Name, date of birth, relationship to client.
  • Service Level: Information Programme/service name, start date and end date."

Trevor McGlinchey, Executive Officer of the NZ Council of Christian Social Services, first noticed the changes in the Request for Proposals (RFP) for the new MSD budgeting programme, Building Financial Capability.

Mr McGlinchey raised concerns that these requirements will negatively impact clients' access to services:

"This collection of individual level data is a new contractual requirement that has the potential to move community social services from being able to work with anyone with needs in their communities, to only being able to work with those willing to have their personal details shared with government." He also questioned whether there had been any consultation regarding the change or review of the potential impacts: "I am not aware of any conversations with communities or with community-based social services on introducing this change. Neither have I seen any assessment of the potential impact of these new requirements on families and individuals who seek support. I would have thought that such a significant change would be thoroughly consulted on and researched prior to being implemented on an across-system level to all services, all providers and all clients."

The MSD Community Investment Strategy update states "The dates and opportunities for stakeholder engagement will be set out in a stakeholder engagement plan, which will be published on MSD’s website in September 2016." (Page 9)

Social Services Providers Aotearoa (SSPA) has said they are interested in hearing from providers who have provisions in their contracts like this or other concerns - contact SSPA at

Similar concerns about client confidentiality and privacy were raised when the Ministry of Social Development requested that Relationships Aotearoa hand over their client files when the service was closed in 2015.

In May 2016, the United Nations' special rapporteur on the right to privacy, Professor Joseph Cannataci, criticised the Government's plans to make more use of "big data", raising concerns about New Zealanders' privacy.

New Zealand's privacy laws are currently being reviewed.


An article in the NZ Herald, New surveillance 'may scare off victims' (17/10/16) says the move is "raising fears that people fleeing violent relationships or in financial need may be scared off seeking help in case their disclosures are used to take their children off them, stop their benefits or arrest them for past crimes."

An article by Munro (2007), The Dangers of Information Sharing published in the Social Policy Journal of New Zealand (Issue 31) on information sharing in NZ and the UK notes:

"A third area of concern about surveillance is its impact on the relationship between family members and professionals. Confidentiality has been a major principle in the caring professions except in cases of child abuse and neglect. However, data sharing is a key element in the proposed electronic system and the UK government has pledged to 'remove the legislative barriers to better information sharing' (HM Treasury 2003:13). Evidence suggests that the loss of a guarantee of confidentiality will affect parents' and children's willingness to confide in professionals (Munro 2007). Research on children's views has consistently found that they accept the need for information sharing when there are concerns about significant harm but, on other matters, they are reluctant to talk if there is a risk that the information will be divulged to others (Children's Rights Alliance for England 2006, Hilton and Mills 2006). Indeed, even with child abuse, the lack of confidentiality has a negative effect. Research on children using ChildLine, a confidential phone service, highlighted the importance of the confidentiality:

The offer of confidentiality is one of the prime reasons children call ChildLine. One of the most common questions they ask of our counsellors is, 'Are you going to tell anyone about this?' (Easton and Carpentieri 2004:25)"

In New Zealand, the report Breaking the silence but keeping secrets: What young people want to address sexual violence by Point Research (2013) found:

"For young people who took part in this research, the lack of awareness of services appears to be compounded by other factors such as a deep distrust of professionals, which is fuelled by fears of loss of confidentiality and may be impacted by cultural and religious factors, particularly in cultures where stigma around sex, sexuality, and abuse is high. … This is particularly concerning given that the young people who had experienced abuse said they felt a profound sense of relief following disclosure.

This research also found that young people are most likely to disclose to friends. Overall, it appears the young people have low expectations of adults and a deep distrust of the adult world. They believe that adults will take over and do what they think is best, with little regard for their wishes. Many showed a deep distrust of school nurses and counsellors saying that they have a reputation for breaching confidentiality and telling other staff or family members about matters that students have regarded as private." (vi)

Further information is in the media list below.

New MSD programme to develop model for transitioning to results-based contracting

MSD has also announced the Acceleration for Results programme. MSD will work with the Ākina Foundation to "... to co-design an effective way to transition current contracted providers to using results-based contracting models which support the outcomes of the Community Investment Strategy." The Ākina Foundation works to grow social enterprise across New ZealandMSD is currently looking for seven providers to participate in the programme in stage one from November 2016 to June 2017.

The programme is specifically looking for providers delivering services to families that aim to:

  • "prevent the occurrence of child maltreatment
  • increase children’s physical and mental health and development and/or
  • increase resiliency in families/ whānau."

Registrations of Interest (ROI) for joining the programme in Stage One are open from 7-24 October 2016 on the GETS website. Information is also available on the Ākina website.

Further updates:

For information on further developments, see the following more recent NZFVC news stories:

Concerns and public meeting on NGOs and provision of individual client level data (March 2017)

Privacy Commissioner surveying NGOs on requirement for individual client level data (January 2017)

ComVoices paper highlights issues with govt requiring individual client level data (November 2016)

Government continues work on integrated data and "social investment"
(January 2017)

Selected media

No data, no funding. That’s just wrong., Green Party Blog Post, 02.11.2016 
(also a petition)

NGOs forced to join surveillance state, Radio Waatea, 19.10.2016

Govt denies 'surveillance' of victims, NZ Herald, 17.10.2016

Tighter surveillance on social funding 'may scare people off seeking help', NZ Herald, 17.10.2016

Image: Pixabay