Privacy and Confidentiality
Clients have a right to confidentiality of information which they pass on to their counsellor or other staff members in the course of their contact with the Centre.
At the commencement of counselling clients are given a client information booklet and a rights and responsibilities agreement that explains the Centres policy and procedures regarding confidentiality and privacy at the Centre.
The Privacy Act 1988 – applies to private sector organisations. It regulates the handling of personal information under National Privacy Principles and contains guidelines on privacy in the private health sector.
The Privacy and Personal Information Protection Act – applies to public sector agencies. It regulates the handling of personal information under information protection principles. The operation of the Act is extended by virtue of the funding agreements between public sector agencies and private sector organisations.
SWCC has mechanisms for the storage and handling of personal information about individuals to ensure the National Privacy Principles are rules are met to protect the privacy of ‘personal information’ and are based on existing public sector codes and international standards.
Sydney Women’s Counselling Centre should only provide personal information to a third party if:
- The individual concerned consents to the transfer, or
- The Centre has taken reasonable steps to ensure that the information to be transferred will not be collected, held, used or disclosed by the recipient of the information inconsistently with these principles.
The only times when a clients’ rights to confidentiality may be over-ruled are:
- When Sydney Women’s Counselling Centre is legally subpoenaed to submit a client’s files to be presented in court as evidence with the exception of files that contain reports of sexual assault which are protected under the NSW Privileges under the Evidence Amendment (Confidential Communication) Act 1997 which creates a presumption that communication made between a counsellor and a person who has been sexually assaulted is NOT admissible in Court.
- There is knowledge or suspicions of a child being abused or at risk of being abused. In such instances, Sydney Women’s Counselling Centre has the policy of notification to the proper authorities, and is to assist the client to do so, or to act on her behalf.
- During supervision either individually or within the staff group, information may be shared but all staff are bound by the same confidentiality agreement.
- Disclosure of details of a serious offence she has committed (such as murder, arson). Counsellor would be obliged to inform the police, and if they fail to do this would be herself committing a criminal offence called “misprision of a felony.”
- If the client is in immediate and serious danger of self destruction through suicide- the counsellor is to inform her that she will be calling the Mental Health Crisis Team or some other emergency service.
If Sydney Women’s Counselling Centre collects or passes on information about a client from or to someone else, the service will make sure the client has signed a Release of Information Agreement, except in cases where this is not required e.g. child abuse notification.
Any requests for transfer of information must be accompanied by the written consent of the client. Usually an appointment is made with the client to enable some discussion about the benefit of obtaining the file before a file is handed over.