Saturday, 10 September 2011

I hate . . . Legal Lies

After a recent conversation with a public sector organisation, I've noticed that public and private companies will often tell you things that are not entirely truthful. If they want to avoid doing something, or prevent you doing something, they regularly say that the law stops it - even when it doesn't.

Shockingly, this even happens in the police - so here are a few things you should know about the law. This is for the UK, but similar legislation exists across Europe and in North America.

The Data Protection Act

One of the favourite excuses is that a company cannot give you information because of the data protection act. I'd say, about half the time this is used it's nonsense.

The data protection act concerns personal information about a named, living individual.

  • A company is NOT an individual. Requests for information on phone numbers, addresses, and similar do not fall under the DPA.
  • The DPA specifically allows you access to information about yourself.
  • It does not cover information that does not identify the individual, such as information on a building, or group of people

Check the Data Protection Act and it's rights and obligations for yourself - and be armed for the next bureaucrat.

Health & Safety

Wide ranging Health and Safety legislation covers all sorts of things - but a lot of them are to do with industrial equipment, fire exists and similar. Most of what you hear quoted as Health and Safety legislation is in fact either guidance, or just company policy.

I recently asked to use the toilet in a shop, and was refused on the grounds of Health and Safety Law. A shop is a private building, so they have no obligation, but refusing on the ground of H & S is stupid - I'm not going to be causing danger to anyone.

One of the core rules of the Health and Safety legislation is that risks should be reduced to as low as reasonably possible. Unfortunately many organisations seem to take this as 'reduced to zero' - and in doing so just prevent many things with relatively low risks. See Health and Safety Law, and the next time someone quotes 'Heath & Safety', ask them to show you the section in the regulations.

One friend was told recently he could not hire a car on his licence as he had it less than two years, and 'Health & Safely' prevented them letting him have it. That's NOT H & S, that's insurance requirements. They can still refuse, but switching the reasons is not helpful, as it reduces you chance to expplore options, like paying for additional insurance.

Paranoid and stupid, home made rules are also the causes of one major blight in most places - pointless safety signs. A sign sign 'Danger: Steep Slope' at the top of a steep slope. Signs on hot water taps saying 'Water may be hot'. Even 'Slippery When Wet' on wooden steps, and even signs on the backs of trucks warning people not to pass on the inside.

How about this for a suggestion: let's go back to everyone being responsible for their own safety.

Arbitrary 'Legal Reasons'

After being told recently that an organisation could not email a form for 'legal reasons', I questioned why, and the customer 'services' handler could not tell me under which laws. After escalating to a supervisor, who initially said the same thing, he eventually admitted it was because their systems only allowed printed forms to be posted.

Any time someone says 'legal reasons' or 'the law stops us doing that', ask them which law, which Act, which section. 95% of the time they cannot tell you, and neither can their supervisor, or the boss. Rules are instituted by companies, and then they have to justify them - and an unnamed 'law' is the perfect excuse.

The next time you are told 'You cannot do that because of...' check they have got their facts right - the answer may surprise you.

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