Mother set to sue Council over school registration letter for deceased son

A woman is set to sue one of England's largest local authorities after it wrote asking her to register her son for primary school three years after his death.

She was still receiving bereavement counselling from her local hospital when she received the letter from Manchester City Council.

The woman has claimed that the letter - which is believed to have been sent to almost 100 other families who had also lost their children - left her very upset and amounted to a breach of her legal rights.

The Council has since admitted that the letters had been sent in error but has insisted that it did not infringe data protection and privacy law.

Nick McAleenan, a Partner at JMW Solicitors who is representing the woman, who is in her thirties, has said that the authority's failure to properly explain or apologise for its mistake had "added insult to injury".

"The Council's error had serious emotional consequences for my client and probably for many of the other parents who received these registration letters.

"It is deeply traumatic to lose a child. The parents concerned have watched as other families' children have grown up. Sadly, that's something that their own children will never be able to do.

"The authority's action was careless and insensitive but - importantly - also breached the parents' data rights.

"The council has already conceded that it did not perform relatively basic checks on the information before sending the letters out.

"The upset caused by that initial mistake has been compounded by officials arguing that they acted within the rules because they were using the data of the deceased children. In fact, they clearly wrote to the children's parents asking them to act.

"My client has given Manchester City Council a number of opportunities to amicably resolve what seems to be a fairly clear-cut issue, something which it says it is unwilling to do."

Mr McAleenan explained how the woman's child had died only days after its birth at St Mary's Hospital in Manchester in 2015.

In August 2018, she received a letter from the City Council's Children, Families and Education Services Directorate instructing her that she had until the following January to register her son for a place at primary school.

It was later reported that hers was one of 95 such letters sent to parents in similar circumstances.

Within days, the Council began receiving complaints, prompting it to issue an apology addressing those affected not by their names but simply "Dear Parent".

The apology acknowledged that parents had been caused distress, adding that an internal investigation had concluded that staff had "missed a vital stage in checking this information and therefore a number of letters were sent out in error".

Mr McAleenan described how he had been contacted for help after his client had written on three separate occasions to Manchester City Council in search of an explanation.

Furthermore, he said, the Council now maintained that it had guidance from the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) that it had not breached data law.

"Despite our requests, the local authority has consistently failed to provide us with a copy of its correspondence with the ICO on this issue.

"That's very relevant because we believe that the ICO has only had a chance to consider the material sent to it by the City Council and not by the families involved. Had it spoken to them, I doubt that it would have reached such a conclusion.

"We believe that the authority's conduct fell well short of legal data processing under data legislation.

"Its actions weren't fair to the parents and showed a lack of respect which has caused entirely avoidable distress.

"The law clearly sets out how such conduct and the damage caused leave the way open for these individuals to claim compensation.

"My client recognises that she may have to go to court in order to hold the Council responsible."

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