Should I be representing this constituent? S/he doesn’t live in my constituency but has asked for our help.
There is an oft-quoted “strict parliamentary protocol” that MPs do not pursue issues raised by or about constituents of other MPs. Our view on this has always been: “In the absence of any very clear definition of this protocol, you should use common sense and refer any matter concerning someone who is not your constituent to his or her own MP.”
MPs do not have an obligation to act on every matter constituents raise with them, whether they be their own constituent or the constituent of another MP (see here). If you receive a letter or email from an individual who is not your MP’s constituent, you should inform them that they should contact their own MP. It would be helpful if you give them the contact details for their own MP. We advise you not to forward the correspondence directly to the other MP, as this has the potential to leave you open to an accusation of a breach of the Data Protection Act.
To find the MP for any address in the UK, use this website: https://members.parliament.uk/constituencies/ – all you need is the postcode. The House of Commons Information line on 020 7219 4272 will give you the same information. Both or these resources are publicly available.
It is good practice to write back to the individual to:
- thank them for their communication
- let them know you are not their MP
- let them know who their MP is and ask them to contact them directly.
There is an excellent House of Commons Library briefing on Data Protection: Constituency Casework, which can be found here: https://commonslibrary.parliament.uk/research-briefings/sn01936/
If a constituent moves to a different constituency whilst a case is ongoing, you should contact the constituent to explain to them that you can no longer deal with their case. You should offer to either transfer the details to their new Member of Parliament or to return their case file to them. Occasionally, you may wish to continue to deal with the case after the constituent has moved. If you wish to continue with a case, you should, ideally, contact the constituent’s new MP and explain why you would like to retain the case and give them the opportunity to respond.
Rarely, a constituent from another area feels unable to deal with their own Member of Parliament and asks for your assistance. If this should happen, you should try to ascertain exactly why they feel unable to approach their own MP and then use your judgement to decide whether or not to take on the case.
You may also be asked to help two different constituents who are in conflict with each other. In this instance, you could ask another MP if they would be prepared to act on behalf of one of them, but they are under no obligation to do so.
For more complicated instances, there is a very helpful Standard Note, by Richard Kelly in the Commons Library: “Members and constituency etiquette“, which spells it out. You should read it in detail and add it to your own collection of essential guides. If you get things wrong your boss is going to blame YOU when s/he gets it in the neck!
For those who enjoy reading the fine detail, you can see Hansard’s account of the debate which took place on 5 November 2008 on the topic of Constituency Correspondence (Confidentiality). Click on ‘Next Section’ at the bottom of this link: www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200708/cmhansrd/cm081105/debtext/81105-0014.htm#08110554000001.
You might also find useful W4MP’s: Guide to Data Protection