Registration, data protection and surveillance

Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information contained in the Pink Book, we regret that we cannot be responsible for any errors. The Pink Book contains general information about laws applicable to your business. The information is not advice, and should not be treated as such.  Read our full disclaimer.

Key facts

  • If you hold any personal information on customers or any other individuals, including employees, the Data Protection Act 2018 (DPA) applies.
  • Unless you have an exemption, you are required to pay an Annual Data Protection Fee to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).
  • The General Data Protection Regulation 2018 (GDPR) enhances consumer rights, including the ability to access the information that businesses hold.
  • All serviced and self-catering accommodation premises must keep a record of all guests over the age of 16. The record should include their full name and nationality. You must keep each guest's details for at least 12 months.
  • Surveillance equipment can only be used if there is a legitimate reason to do so. Customers should be made aware that they are being monitored, who is undertaking the activity, and the purpose for which that information is to be used.

Data protection

The holding and use of personal information of individuals is regulated by the Data Protection Act 2018 (DPA), which sits alongside the General Data Protection Regulation 2018 (GDPR). As the provisions are extensive, you should read the paragraphs below to see if they apply to you.

Note: the paragraphs in this section focus on personal data held on customers, as this is perhaps the most relevant situation for smaller tourism businesses. However, the acts apply equally to personal data held on other individuals, including employees, although the specific provisions vary. For further information, contact the Information Commissioner's Office.

What is the purpose of the DPA?

The DPA is intended to protect the privacy of individuals (data subjects) by preventing the misuse or unauthorised use of personal information (personal data) that is held by others (data controllers). It achieves this by:

  • Regulating the use of personal data held by data controllers, and;
  • Giving rights to data subjects.

Does the DPA apply to me?

The DPA applies to the ‘processing of personal data’ for any business purpose, regardless of the size of the business. This includes personal data on either employees or customers.

What is 'personal data'?

Personal data is any information that relates to an identifiable individual. It can range from their name, phone number or email address, through to more personal information such as their sexual orientation or whether they are disabled. It is important to note that personal information also includes images, including CCTV recordings. As a general rule, if it is possible to identify an individual directly from the information you process, then that information is personal data.

What is 'processing'?

Processing of personal data is pretty much anything you do with it: from collecting, storing, organising and using that data, through to deleting it. 

What is a 'controller'?

A controller is the person that decides how and why to collect and use the data. Employees are deemed to be acting on behalf of the employer – meaning that, as the business operator, you are the controller even if you do not actually process the data yourself.

Data Protection Principles

Controllers are required to follow strict rules called data protection principles. You must ensure that all data is:

  • Used fairly, lawfully and transparently.
  • Used only for specified, explicit purposes.
  • Used in a way that is adequate, relevant and limited to only what is necessary.
  • Accurate and, where necessary, kept up to date.
  • Kept for no longer than is necessary.
  • Handled in a way that ensures appropriate security – including protection against unlawful or unauthorised processing, access, loss, destruction or damage.

I think the Act applies to me. What must I do?

The three basic requirements are set out below. Please note that even if you are exempt from (a), you still need to comply with (b) and (c).

(a) Pay an Annual Data Protection Fee

No: if you only hold personal data on a manual filing system, you do not need to pay this fee.

Yes: if you hold personal data on a computer (or any other automated system), you must pay this fee. However, you are exempt if you only hold personal data for the following purposes:

  • Staff administration (including payroll).
  • Accounts and records (such as details of past or present customers or suppliers).
  • Your own advertising, marketing and public relations (the information must be restricted to just what is necessary for your advertising, marketing and public relations), and your advertising, marketing and public relations are not undertaken by a third party.
  • You are using the personal data for not-for-profit purposes.
  • You are maintaining a public register.

It is important to note that if you use CCTV on your premises for crime prevention purposes (that is, security reasons), then you are required to notify the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) and pay the Annual Data Protection Fee.

Under the Data Protection (Charges and Information) Regulations 2018, individuals and organisations that process personal data need to pay a data protection fee to the ICO. There is an annual fee of £40 if you have a turnover of less than £632,000 or fewer than 10 staff, and £60 for businesses with a turnover of up to £36 million or up to 250 staff.

Charities, regardless of their size, are only required to pay an annual fee of £40.

The ICO has an online assessment tool for determining whether you have to pay the Annual Data Protection Fee.

(b) Follow the data protection principles

All data controllers, whether their records are computerised, automated or manual, and whether they have to notify or not, must comply with the eight data protection principles set out in the DPA. In brief, personal data should be:

  • Obtained and processed fairly and lawfully, and should not be held or used unless the data subject has given their consent, or it is necessary in performance of a contract to which the data subject is a party, or it is necessary for any other reason specified in the DPA (see the Direct marketing section).
  • Obtained only for specified and lawful purposes.
  • Adequate, relevant and not excessive in relation to the purposes for which they are being held or used.
  • Accurate and, where necessary, kept up to date.
  • Kept no longer than necessary for the purposes concerned.
  • Processed in accordance with the rights of data subjects (see (c) below).
  • Subject to appropriate technical and organisational measures against unauthorised or unlawful processing, and against accidental loss or destruction.
  • Not transferred to a country or territory outside the European Economic Area, unless that country or territory ensures adequate level of protection for the rights and freedoms of data subjects in relation to processing personal data.


If you intend to hold information on a customer for any purpose other than handling their current booking or purchase (for example, you would like to send them marketing material in future), you must obtain their consent.

The DPA does not specify what form this consent must take. It may be an informal, spoken 'yes', but you should give customers enough information for them to make an informed decision (for example, by telling them what personal information you intend to hold and why).

Customers can give their consent at any time: on booking, on entry or check-in, or when they leave. You should keep a record of all consents in case a customer disputes that they granted their permission.

You may want to produce a simple form that can be used either over the telephone, on emails or in writing, which:

  • Explains to customers the personal information on them that you want to hold, and why.
  • Asks customers for their consent.
  • Has a space, such as a tick box, to record whether or not consent is given.

If you intend to keep 'sensitive personal information', you must have the customer’s explicit consent to hold and use their personal data for the purposes specified. Sensitive personal information includes the following:

  • Race, ethnic origins;
  • Religion;
  • Political opinions;
  • Physical or mental health (for example a disability);
  • Sexual orientation;
  • Criminal convictions or allegations.

(c) Complying with the rights of data subjects

All data controllers must comply with the rights given to individuals by the DPA in relation to the personal information held on them. The DPA gives eight distinct rights, of which the most applicable are as follows:

Right of access: individuals have a right to know what information you are holding on them, and why you are holding it (called a Subject Access Request). If you receive a written request from an individual for this information, you must respond within 30 days, stating:

  • Whether you hold any personal data on them.
  • What the data is, the reason you are holding it, and those to whom it has/may be disclosed, along with an intelligible copy of the information and details of the manner in which it was collected.

Right to prevent processing for the purposes of direct marketing: if you receive a request from an individual to cease using the personal data you hold on them for direct marketing, you must do so.

Right to prevent processing that is likely to cause damage or distress: if you receive a request from an individual to cease using the personal data you hold on them because it is causing, or likely to cause, substantial damage or distress to them or another, you must do so.

Right to compensation: any individual who suffers damage or distress as a result of a contravention of the DPA by you is entitled to seek compensation from you if you did not take reasonable care to comply.

Note: you have the right to require reasonable proof of identity from a person who is asking to exercise these rights. You should be satisfied that the person asking is the person concerned, but you must not use excessive identity checking as a way to deliberately complicate access to the data.

Caution! If you are buying-in any mailing lists, you should ensure that the provider has the consent of the individuals listed to pass on their details to third parties.

For more information, consult the ICO’s guide to determining whether you are complying with the Data Protection Act.

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) came into force on 25 May 2018. The main additional requirements of the GDPR are:

1.The Right to be Forgotten

A customer can, at any time, request that you remove all of their personal data from your system. If the customer has previously agreed that you could provide their data to a third party, you must also stop doing this if you receive a Right to be Forgotten request. However, it is important to note that any Right to be Forgotten request does not override requirements to hold information under other legislation. For example, you are required by law to keep financial records for seven years, therefore a customer cannot request that you delete records of any financial transactions that they undertook within the last seven years.

2. Improving Consent and Withdrawal of Consent

The conditions for consent were strengthened by the GDPR. You must be clear and upfront with customers about what exactly they are consenting to when they sign up. This is to stop companies from hiding the details in their terms and conditions. So, if you are planning to pass their information on to a third party and to email them a newsletter, you must tell them in simple and clear language next to the box that they are ticking.

Importantly, it must be as easy for customers to withdraw consent as it is to give consent.​ So, if you have a simple tick-box online where customers give consent, then there should also be a simple tick-box online to withdraw consent.

3. Right to Access

The GDPR also expands the rights of customers to access the information that you hold on them. This has two parts: first, on request from the customer, you are required to inform them if personal data concerning them is being processed, where it is being processed, and for what purpose. Second, if requested, you must provide a copy of all the personal data that you hold on the person – electronically and free of charge. This includes any information that you have made on the person’s file, so if you have added notes such as, ‘likes the Sunday Times’, ‘owns a Spaniel called Arthur’ or ‘gave a donation’, you also need to provide this information. You need to supply it within 30 days.

4. Notification of Data Breaches

The GDPR requires you to notify the ICO within 72 hours of first becoming aware of a data breach, where that breach is likely to 'result in a risk for the rights and freedoms of individuals'. For any breach, you are required to notify the customers 'without undue delay' after first becoming aware of a data breach.

The ICO has produced several online resources to help businesses to comply with the GDPR:

  • The Guide to the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
  • A small business toolkit to help you to check your compliance.
  • A support helpline aimed at people who run small businesses or charities, designed to provide additional, personal advice. As well as GDPR advice, callers can ask questions about other legislation regulated by the ICO, including electronic marketing and Freedom of Information. People from small organisations should dial the ICO helpline on 0303 123 1113 (Monday to Friday between 9am and 5pm) and select option 4 to be transferred to staff who can offer support.

Transferring personal data to and from the EU/EEA

The European Commission has found the UK data protection laws to be adequate to allow data to continue to flow as it did before the UK left the EU. This decision is expected to last until 27 June 2025.

More information on transferring personal data to and from the EU is available on the ICO website.

Data security and credit cards

The DPA states that ‘appropriate technical and organisational measures shall be taken against unauthorised or unlawful processing of personal data and against accidental loss or destruction of, or damage to, personal data’.

If you never receive a customer’s card number (that is, you use a third party to deal with transactions) you probably have little to worry about, other than to ensure that the third party is a reputable organisation with a good knowledge of data security issues (for example Paypal or Worldpay).

If you do receive a customer’s data, you should follow the standards of the Payment Card Industry Security Standards Council. This council is a global consortium of all major card payment companies, including Mastercard and Visa. Its function is to promote standards of data security that make it harder for criminals to steal data. These standards are quite demanding, but compliance is mandatory for retailers who accept card payments. The requirements of the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard are contractual rather than the law of the land but, if you follow them, you will also be meeting the legal requirement.

If you do handle card data, you must ensure that you know and follow the rules that are applicable to your circumstances. There are 12 requirements, some of which are of limited relevance to small businesses:

  1. Install and maintain a firewall. Your computer operating system probably has this built in, for example Windows Firewall.
  2. Do not use default passwords. If your password is ‘password’, change it. Passwords should not be obvious.
  3. Protect stored cardholder data. Do not leave personal data on your laptop and then travel with it, due to the risk of losing it. Keep it secure at all times.
  4. Encrypt internet transmission of cardholder data. Never use ordinary email to send credit card information.
  5. Use and regularly update anti-virus software. This is essential: set it to update automatically if you can.
  6. Develop and maintain secure systems and applications. This is likely to apply only to larger businesses who have developed their own systems.
  7. Restrict access to cardholder data on a need-to-know basis. Ensure that card data is not available to your visitors, all staff, etc.
  8. Assign a unique ID to each person with computer access. Do not share identities or passwords or run a database of past clients shared between several people with the same login.
  9. Restrict physical access to cardholder data. Do not leave a print-out of data in an unlocked location (or in a file of manual card data records).
  10. Track and monitor all access to network resources and cardholder data. This is relevant to businesses with larger systems, but all businesses should record who has access to card data.
  11. Test security systems and processes regularly. At the very least, check that your security measures are being adhered to.
  12. Maintain a policy that addresses information security. For small businesses, the key point is that you give this topic some serious thought, rather than writing a formal policy.

For small businesses, the above list can be summarised as making sure that access to card data – both on paper and electronically – is very well controlled, restricted to people who really need it, and that any computer on which you store it has proper defences such as a firewall and anti-virus software.

Although not a legal requirement, your acquirer may also require you to complete a PCI DSS Self-Assessment Questionnaire (SAQ) in order to validate your compliance to the standards.

Accommodation: keeping a register of your guests

Does this Act apply to me?

Yes: under the Immigration (Hotel Records) Order 1972, all serviced and self-catering accommodation premises must keep a record of all guests over the age of 16.

What do I need to record?

To comply with the Immigration (Hotel Records) Order 1972 you need to collect the following information from guests on their arrival:

  • Full name;
  • Nationality.

Note: you are not legally required to take a guest's home address or contact number.

For all guests who are not British, Irish, or nationals of Commonwealth nations:

  • Passport number and place of issue (or other document which shows their identity and nationality).
  • Details of their next destination (including the address, if known) on or before departure.

Note: diplomats, their family and staff do not have to register.

What about the format of the register?

There is no set format for the register. It could be a visitors’ book or an exercise book, but you must keep each guest's details for at least 12 months and have the register available for inspection by a police officer or duly authorised person at all times.

It may be, of course, that you are given the necessary details at the time of booking – but you should check them when the guests arrive, and ensure that you have all the information that you are required to collect. Even if your local police force has traditionally shown no interest in these records, circumstances could change.

Using surveillance equipment on your premises

Over recent years, the cost of buying and installing surveillance systems has dropped considerably. Their use is now becoming more prevalent in small businesses who want to safeguard their property and their customers.

However, it is very important to get the right balance between justifiable reasons for surveillance and a customer’s right to privacy.

There are two main acts that cover the use of CCTV and other surveillance equipment: the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 and the Data Protection Act (DPA). The first covers when and where it is justifiable to use CCTV equipment, and the second covers the treatment of the data that is gained from its use.

Protection of Freedoms Act

The starting point of the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 is that people have a fundamental right to privacy, and this can only be encroached upon if there is a legitimate reason to do so. It is not acceptable to install surveillance equipment simply because you 'want to keep an eye on what is going on'.

You must also only use surveillance equipment if there is no other practical way to solve a problem that does not impact on customers’ right to privacy. For example, if there had been thefts from a particular area, ways of restricting access to that area should be considered before you install surveillance equipment.

Surveillance equipment can only be used if the encroachment on people’s right to privacy is proportionate to the purpose for which the equipment is being used. However, there are no hard-and-fast rules as to what is proportionate because each circumstance will involve differing levels of both justification and privacy.

For example, installing CCTV cameras to protect possessions in a museum or to monitor customers’ safety in an animal park would be justifiable, but it would not be justifiable to put CCTV in guest bedrooms or in changing rooms where customers would expect a very high level of privacy.

Conversely, installing CCTV in a communal lounge would not normally be justifiable, but could become justifiable if there had been a spate of thefts in this area. However, it is important to note that in this situation the justification would end once the person committing the thefts was identified or the thefts ended.

Importantly, when you do use surveillance equipment, customers should be made aware that they are being monitored, who is undertaking the activity, and the purpose for which that information is to be used. Again, the greater the extent that a customer’s privacy is being encroached, the more important it is that they are fully aware of the surveillance that is being undertaken.

Data Protection Act

Provided that the use of surveillance equipment is justified, there is then the issue of how to use, handle and store the data you collect. This comes under both the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 and the Data Protection Act.

Again, the handling and storage of this data need to be proportionate to the justification for collecting it in the first place. You must have very clear guidelines as to who has access to the monitoring equipment and the stored data. The greater the extent that you are encroaching on customers’ privacy, the greater the restrictions should be on access to the monitoring equipment and the data.

The length of time that you keep the data should also be proportionate to the justification for using the surveillance equipment. For example, if the equipment is being used to monitor a pool to ensure that there are no accidents, then there would be little justification for storing the data beyond the period that the pool was being used (that is, it should be deleted at the end of each day as its storage is no longer warranted). However, if the equipment was being used to monitor the car park, then it could be justifiable to keep the data for longer in case a customer returned home and later found a dent that they thought happened while at your premises.

To help businesses in their use of surveillance equipment, the Home Office has produced the following 12-point code of practice:

1. Use of a surveillance camera system must always be for a specified purpose which is in pursuit of a legitimate aim, and necessary to meet an identified pressing need.

2. The use of a surveillance camera system must consider its effect on individuals and their privacy, with regular reviews to ensure its use remains justified.

3. There must be as much transparency in the use of a surveillance camera system as possible, including a published contact point for access to information and complaints.

4. There must be clear responsibility and accountability for all surveillance camera system activities, including images and information collected, held and used.

5. Clear rules, policies and procedures must be in place before a surveillance camera system is used, and these must be communicated to all who need to comply with them.

6. No more images and information should be stored, other than that which is strictly required for the stated purpose of a surveillance camera system, and such images and information should be deleted once their purposes have been discharged.

7. Access to retained images and information should be restricted, and there must be clearly defined rules on who can gain access, and for what purpose such access is granted. The disclosure of images and information should only take place when it is necessary for such a purpose or for law enforcement purposes.

8. Surveillance camera system operators should consider any approved operational, technical and competency standards relevant to a system and its purpose, and work to meet and maintain those standards.

9. Surveillance camera system images and information should be subject to appropriate security measures to safeguard against unauthorised access and use.

10. There should be effective review and audit mechanisms to ensure that legal requirements, policies and standards are complied with in practice, and regular reports should be published.

11. When the use of a surveillance camera system is in pursuit of a legitimate aim, and there is a pressing need for its use, it should then be used in the most effective way to support public safety and law enforcement with the aim of processing images and information of evidential value.

12. Any information used to support a surveillance camera system which compares against a reference database for matching purposes should be accurate and kept up to date.