The Department for Education spent almost £15,000 defending its divisive pupil nationality and country of birth data collection in court just months before it was scrapped, and it didn’t receive a penny of help from the Home Office.
Two attempts by campaigners to challenge the collection at judicial review landed the DfE with legal bills totalling £14,817.48, of which £5,000 was recouped from the claimant when their request was turned down by the High Court.
They have spent money defending a position they should never have taken in the first place
However, the actual spend on legal advice is likely to be much higher, as the DfE said it could not say how much it spent on its own lawyers during the challenges.
Ministers U-turned last April on the controversial collection, part of the attempt to create a “hostile environment” for illegal immigrants by Theresa May while she was home secretary.
The policy was ditched less than two years after it was launched, and just two months after proceedings for a second judicial review were launched. Campaigners opposed the collection on data privacy and human rights grounds.
The DfE had already been forced to abandon plans to share nationality and country of birth data with the Home Office for immigration control following a backlash from parents and campaigners, and a highly successful boycott of the collection left officials without data on a quarter of pupils.
Despite the Home Office’s well-documented involvement in the collection, the DfE told Schools Week, in a response to a freedom of information act, that the Home Office had not been involved in the decision to collect the data, and did not contribute to the DfE’s efforts to protect the collection in the courts.
“No other government departments, including the Home Office, were involved in, or contributed to, the decision to collect this data, the design and implementation of the collection or the cost of any associated legal challenges. The Home Office contribution was therefore £0.”
But Jen Persson, whose organisation Defend Digital Me was responsible for the second legal challenge last February, said: “They have spent money defending a position they should never have taken in the first place.”