Firstly and importantly, do make yourself familiar with the stipulations in the Data Protection Act. This was most recently updated in 1998, and checking the present regulations, as well as keeping abreast of any further changes can be done by logging on to the Data Protection website (see bottom of article for link). The Data Protection Registrar is usually very helpful and in an attempt to make the process as simple as possible, will complete your form for you so that all you have to do is check it and pay the £35 annual registration fee.
You’ll also need to abide by the code of ethics and practise of your professional association for document storage and confidentiality. The BACP can provide you with a range of fact sheets to assist you with this.
In legal terms, professional Codes of Practice are not necessarily recognised in a court of law. Whilst they do carry some weight in some courts, it is important to ensure that your record-keeping bible is the Data Protection Act.
An important point to keep in mind is that these ethical requirements don’t necessarily fully cover your legal requirements. You’re under further obligation to ensure that you fulfil these as well, in case of investigation.
Whilst we don’t yet have in the UK quite the culture of litigation that is prevalent in the USA, the situation is changing, and you’ll need to ensure that you’re legally protected in two ways: firstly, a client may decide to take you to court for some reason, and secondly, you may be asked to give evidence in a court on behalf of a client (this is not uncommon in insurance claims following car accidents, for example, where you might have been treating the client for PTSD).
To cover the first eventuality, do ensure that you have adequate personal insurance cover. There are companies who specialise in insuring self-employed professionals, and it is essential that you arrange this before you see your first client. The second eventuality may result in your being asked to make case notes available to the court. There has been much debate in recent years as to whether this involves the therapist in violating their code of professional confidentiality.
(UK Data Protection Act Guidelines can be viewed here: www.ico.gov.uk)