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HMRC internal manual

Information Disclosure Guide

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HM Revenue & Customs
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Public Interest Disclosures: principles to follow: criteria for making public interest disclosures

A disclosure in the public interest must only be made where no other applicable statutory gateway exists (see IDG40300 for a description of all other lawful methods of disclosure). Where a disclosure falls within the terms of another applicable gateway (for example, information that is sufficiently linked to a criminal investigation may fall within the terms of section 19 of the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001, see IDG50100) the alternative gateway must always be used, together with any procedures associated with that gateway.

Sections 20(2) to 20(7) of CRCA set out the purposes for which disclosures may lawfully be made in the public interest. These are the only circumstances in which public interest disclosure may be made, and are set out at IDG60230 along with a statement of the extent to which the Commissioners will currently permit disclosure within these criteria.

In order for a public interest disclosure to be lawful it must meet all four of the criteria below (further instructions for making disclosures are set out at IDG60230 and IDG60234):

1. It must fall within one of the permitted disclosure purposes set out in detail in CRCA and at IDG70250

These are (briefly):

  • disclosure under an international agreement for the purpose of preventing or detecting crime;
  • disclosure to a professional regulatory body of information relating to misconduct by a member of that body;
  • disclosure to a constable either in relation to the movement of persons or goods into or out of the UK, or for the purpose of preventing or detecting crime;
  • disclosure of information to an appropriate person relating to public health or public safety;
  • disclosure of appropriate information to the Police National Computer.

2. It must be the subject of a valid instruction to disclose

There are two types of instruction:

  • general instructions, covering classes of information that may be disclosed in particular circumstances. Guidance for handling disclosures under general instructions is at IDG60233, which also details the general instructions currently in force and which must be consulted before considering disclosure; and
  • Individual Instructions covering one-off disclosures of specific information relating to specific persons, transactions or goods, which are not covered by a pre-existing general instruction. Guidance for handling disclosures under Individual Instructions is at IDG60234, and must be consulted before considering disclosure. Individual Instructions under Section 20(3) to enable disclosure to an accountancy body which has responsibility for the regulation of members of the accountancy profession may not be issued. Nor should there be disclosures to any other professional regulatory body without reference first to your Data Guardian.

Most established and permissible kinds of public interest disclosure have now been brought within the scope of general instructions. However, you should not simply assume that disclosures of the kind previously made in the public interest are now covered by a general instruction. You must check IDG60233 first and contact your Data Guardian if in doubt.

In making any disclosure (whether an individual disclosure or a disclosure under a class instruction) you must follow the required record keeping procedures set out at IDG40210.

3. The person authorising the disclosure must be satisfied that the disclosure is necessary in the public interest

Guidance for applying this test is at IDG60220.

4. Your action in making the disclosure must be proportionate to what you are seeking to achieve

Guidance on applying this test is at paragraphs IDG60220.