Contact with third parties - guidance to staff
Staff throughout the University regularly deal with contacts from third
parties such as parents, guardians, partners and sponsors of students. The
reasons for such contacts are varied - requesting or divulging information
or advocating or complaining on behalf of a student are typical.
Staff may be unsure how to respond to such contacts. Through a genuine
desire to help, particularly in the case of anxious/concerned parents, staff
can find themselves caught up in complex family relationships, or
inappropriately mediating between parent and student. Additionally, staff
may unwittingly breach the University's duties under the Data Protection Act
It is hoped that this guidance will give staff confidence in responding
to third party contacts, and ensure a reasonably consistent approach to such
contacts throughout the University.
This document should be read in conjunction with the
Policy on Contact with Third Parties
and existing guidance on data protection and third party requests which
includes specific tips on handling enquiries from police, immigration
authorities and reference requests.
Whilst general guidance is set out below to help staff to respond
appropriately to third party contacts, it will not cater for every
eventuality. Exceptional situations will sometimes demand a different
approach. The following can be contacted for advice:
- Gemma Aitchison, Information Manager
- Sonia Virdee, Deputy Secretary
- Rachel Fletcher, Director of Student Support
General guidance and principles
Do try to
- Keep calm
- Be positive and honest
- Talk on behalf of the institution
- Establish if the student knows
- Get the student directly involved
- Keep detailed notes
- Feel pressurised into giving an instant answer
- Divulge confidential information- including whether the
subject of the enquiry is a student.
- Take sides
- Get angry
- Break down
- Take criticism personally- emotions may be high, the
period of transition at University can be difficult for
parents to cope with
- Blame colleagues or administrative processes
- Make promises you can't keep or for other people
- Get involved in issues beyond the scope of your role or
service- refer on if necessary
- Keep confidences on behalf of third party – third party
contacts should always be noted on students' files.
It is good practice and acceptable to
- Ask third-party to encourage the student to contact the
- Suggest other ways the third party can help the student
- Check the identity of the third party- eg ask for
contact details, check MIS and ring back
- Direct all correspondence to the student
- Note problem, make enquiries and get
back to them (preferably in general terms or
after checking student consent)
- Receive information (eg verbal
notification of absence) but not give it out
- Talk in general terms and refer to
published documents and procedures
- Set time scales and keep to them
- Share with colleagues
- Ask for help- including taking time to recharge after a
- Refuse to be insulted when trying to help
- Notify Student Support or (Information Centre out of
office hours) where there are immediate concerns about a
It may be helpful to explain the reasons for our policy and the
importance we place on encouraging students to manage their own affairs.
Breaches of confidentiality
Where a breach of confidentiality is considered necessary this must be
discussed with relevant senior staff and reasons for the decision recorded.
If possible it would also be discussed and agreed with the student1
. Where a student is under 18 and there is a child protection concern then
confidentiality cannot be offered. Advice should be sought from a Designated
Some typical examples
Seeking contact with a student
You receive a telephone call from a man
who says his daughter is a student at the
University and that he has mislaid her
address but needs to get in touch with her.
He is able to provide her full name and date
of birth and this matches information held
for a current student on MIS.
Establish, if possible, the reason for
the contact. Do not routinely confirm even
whether or not the student is at the
University, let alone any of the personal
details we hold. Explain that UK data
protection law prevents us from passing on
information direct to a third party and that
the University has policy on how third party
contact are handled.
Take the caller's details including
contact details and offer to pass this on to
the student - IF they are registered here.
Don't offer/ promise/ agree to call back.
As the student is on MIS contact the
student direct passing on the message from
the man (as he might not even be her
father), make a note on the student's file.
If the reason for contact appears
urgent or serious - eg the illness or death
of a family member, seek advice during
office hours from Student Support and out of
office hours from Patrol Staff (who can
contact the on call Resident's Support
Network) as support may need to be offered
to the student.
Bear in mind, however
plausible the caller may be,
students may be estranged
from parents and not wish
them to know that they are
studying here. If the
daughter did not appear on
MIS you should not confirm
You receive a telephone call from the
mother of a student to say that she has not
heard from her son for over a week and that this
is very out of character as he normally texts
her every night. He isn't answering his mobile
phone and she's seriously worried.
Gather information about student and
parent, say that you will check to see if
the student is here and if so will try to
get a message to him to contact mum. Don't
offer to call back – if she asks you to
explain that this won't be possible. If she
remains concerned she can report him as
missing to the police - at which point the
University would be able to release more
information (to the police) if it is held.
Check details held on MIS. It may be
worth checking with academic department
whether the student has been attending
classes etc. Send message to the student by
email and/or telephone. If the student lives
in University accommodation a visit from the
Resident's Support Network can be arranged -
contact Student Support to arrange this (or
Patrol Officers out of hours). Make a note
on the student's file.
If there is immediate cause
for concern (eg that the student may have
harmed themselves), contact Patrol staff and
Remember most callers about ‘missing
students' have an innocent explanation, but
occasionally concern may be well founded and
the student could be genuinely missing or in
need of assistance. Always follow up and
seek advice from Student Support and/or
involve Patrol Staff if you are worried.
A man claiming to be the uncle of student turns up at your office, he tells you he had
arranged to meet his nephew in a coffee bar on campus today but he hasn't turned up, could you
let him know where the student lives (or perhaps accompany him to his room)?
Take details from the man (as with the “father” above – people aren't necessarily
who they say they are) including his details and the student's. Say you will look in to
it and ask him to come back in an agreed time (half hour say). Then follow steps
above to check student's details and try to make contact – but not while the visitor is
still with you.
If contact is made with the student, ask for permission to tell his uncle that
you have spoken to him. When uncle returns unless you have student's consent don't
confirm any details. Make a note on the student's file. If concerned about attitude
of uncle, consider involving manager or patrol staff. It can be difficult to turn
people away if they have travelled to be here but it's very important to follow the
guidance and not be drawn into sharing information.
University of Essex
1Provisions of related policies
Mental Health Crisis Intervention policy or the
Under 18's and Vulnerable Adults policy may also need to be considered.