Sharing information with third parties

Staff 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 2018.

This guidance is designed to help give staff the confidence to respond to third party contacts and ensure a reasonably consistent approach to such contacts throughout the University. 


This information should be read in conjunction with the Policy on Contact with Third Parties (.docx) and the University's Data Protection Policy (.pdf).

Contacts for advice

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:

General guidance and principles

Do try to

  • Keep calm
  • Listen
  • Be positive and honest
  • Explain clearly
  • Talk on behalf of the institution, not yourself as an individual staff member
  • Establish if the student knows that the third party is making contact
  • 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 and 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 that you can't keep, or make promises on behalf of anyone else
  • 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

  • Talk in general terms and refer to published documents and procedures (such as the Data Protection request form)
  • Ask third party to encourage the student to contact the University direct
  • Suggest other ways the third party can help the student
  • Check the identity of the third party- eg ask for contact details, check ESIS 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
  • Set time scales and keep to them
  • Share with colleagues
  • Ask for help – including taking time to recharge after a difficult encounter
  • Refuse to be insulted when trying to help
  • Notify Student Support or (Security and Safety Centre out of office hours) where there are immediate concerns about a student's welfare

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 student. 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 Safeguarding Officer.

Typical contact 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 ESIS.

Recommended response

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 directly to a third party and that the University has a 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 ESIS 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 ESIS you should not confirm this either.

Missing student

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.

Recommended response

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 do so, 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 ESIS. It may be worth checking with the academic department whether the student has been attending classes etc. Send a 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 an immediate cause for concern (eg that the student may have harmed themselves), contact Patrol staff and Student Support.

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.

Personal caller

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)?

Recommended response

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 into it and ask him to come back in an agreed time (half-hour say). Then follow the 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 the student's consent don't confirm any details. Make a note on the student's file. If the person's attitude causes you concern, consider involving your manager or security 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.

1Provisions of related policies including the ;Study and Wellbeing Intervention Policy and Procedure (pdf) or the Policy on Safeguarding Children and Adults At Risk may also need to be considered.

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Contact us
Information Assurance Manager
Telephone: 01206 874853