Introduction

The Freedom of Information Act (2000), grants the right of access to information held by public bodies, such as Somerset County Council, district and parish councils, schools, hospitals and the police.  The Data Protection Act (1998) aims to protect personal information about living individuals.  The Act also entitles you to look at personal information that is held about you.

Due to these Acts, some archives held at the Somerset Heritage Centre are under restricted access.  This is largely to protect people that are named within them.  It is reasonable to assume a lifetime of 100 years, so we need to restrict access to these records until the end of a person’s lifetime.  Therefore, records relating to infants, such as Children’s Home registers, are closed for 96 years; and records relating to adults, such as personnel registers, are closed for 84 years.  Records containing medical details are closed for 100 years.

Some depositors also impose restrictions of access to their records which we hold on their behalf.  Details of archives with restricted access are listed in the table below.  Some items may also be restricted due to their condition.  Wherever possible we will try to assist you to view these records.

Both Acts provide clauses which allow access to records in certain cases.  For example, you have a right of access to see your own records.  You can also view records for statistical analysis of historical sources.

Type of Record Length of Restriction
School Records 84 years for staff records
96 years for pupil records
Court Records 100 years for adult court records
84 years for other court files
100 years for juveniles and adoption registers
100 years for details of sexual offences
Hospital Records 84 years for staff records
100 years for patients’ medical details
Workhouse/Public Assistance Records 100 years for records naming inmates of the workhouse of institution
Somerset County Council Records 84 years for staff records
100 years for Social Service or Children’s Home records etc., which name individuals
Building Control Plans Absolute closure for sensitive buildings such as banks, courts and prisons
Citizens’ Advice Bureau 84 years for case files
Methodist Church Records 30 years for all records not previously on open access in the Church (this is at the request of the Methodist Church)
Personnel and staff records 84 years for any record containing personal information

The closure term normally runs from the last date in the record.  Therefore, a document that covers the period 1903-1948 and is closed for 100 years will be under restricted access until 1 January 2049.

How to Access Restricted Records

Information About You

To request information about you that is held in our archives, you need to complete a Data Subject Access Request Form.  We will also need to see proof of your identity, and it is helpful if you can provide as much information as possible (for example institutions attended, dates, etc.)  Once we have received the form, the Data Protection Act allows us 40 calendar days to provide you with the details in a permanent, legible form.  There is no charge for this service.

Please note that on occasion permission is required from the Court for access to magistrates’ court records. Please ask staff for details.

Information about a Living Individual, With Their Permission

If you need to find out information about a living person, you need his or her written permission before information can be released.  Once this permission is granted, a Data Subject Access Request Form needs to be completed.  You should enclose the written permission, along with proof of both you and the other individuals’ identity.  Once we have received the form, the Data Protection Act allows us 40 calendar days to provide you with the details, in a permanent legible form.  There is no charge for this service.

Information about a Living Individual, Without Their Permission

The Freedom of Information and Data Protection Acts do not grant right of access to third party information if that person has not given permission.  If you wish to see information about other individuals without their permission or cannot prove their death, please write to us explaining what records you wish to see and the reasons for your research.  We will then reply either granting permission, or citing why you cannot view the records.

Research for Statistical and Historical Analysis

The Data Protection Act allows access to records for research, as long as this does not identify individuals.  For example, if you were studying birth rates, you would be able to view maternity registers to count the numbers of births, twins etc.  To do this you need to complete a Historical Research Form.  By signing the form you agree to abide by the principles of the Data Protection Act in terms of your research.  Unfortunately we cannot allow records to be copied for the purposes of this research – they need to be consulted in the searchroom, and they cannot be photocopied or photographed.

Information about a Deceased Individual

The Data Protection Act only covers the information of people who are still alive.  However, sometimes the information you need will be in a register under restricted access, as it contains information about other individuals who are still alive.  To access this information, you need to complete a Data Subject Form – Deceased Individual.  Proof of death needs to be provided before the information can be released.  Where possible we will allow you to view this record in the searchroom, but if the information is on a page with details of others then the Research Service will have to copy it for you.  This is charged at the normal Research Service rate.  Please see our Charges page for more information.

Records Closed by the Depositor

To use these records, please write to us with your request, including the reasons for your research, and we will contact the depositor on your behalf to ask permission for you to see the records.

Further Information

For further information please see our Statement of Policy for Access to Restricted Records Under the Data Protection Act (1998) and the Freedomon of Information Act (2000), or see the leaflet below.

Data Protection and Freedom of Information leaflet

Forms

Data Subject Access Request Form – Living Individual

Data Subject Access Request Form – Deceased Individual

Historical Research and Statistical Analysis