Trans Rights + GDPR = A powerful tool for transition

Chris Northwood
4 min readJul 1, 2021

No-one ever warned me about the paperwork involved in transitioning.

Not only do you have to first get that important bit of paper from a psychologist with a diagnosis of “Gender Incongruence of Adolescence and Adulthood” to unlock gender affirming medical treatment, many people change their name (including myself, although mine is more subtle than most, as I was already commonly known as Chris).

Changing your name in the UK is actually really simple. We don’t really have a concept of a legal name, and you can choose to go by any name you want. Certainly many people use stage names, nicknames, or just go by their middle name if they prefer that with no issue. Certain institutes, primarily financial services, require a little bit more than that though, and usually rely on government ID to verify your identity as an anti-fraud measure. If you want to change your name, all you need to do is make a declaration in a deed poll, get it witnessed, and voila, your name is changed. It’s as simple as that.

The painful part is telling people. And although most places will just update your records, some are a bit more demanding. I understand a need for scrutiny to avoid fraud, but sometimes the barriers are made unreasonably high. Even the page itself warns some places may need an enrolled deed poll (this means it’s been filed and published in a national gazette), but this is where GDPR comes to our rescue.

GDPR gives individuals (or “data subjects” in GDPR parlance) rights, one of which is the right to recitification. The right to rectification means that an individual can ask somewhere that holds some details about you to correct a mistake, and they are legally obliged to do it, unless there’s a reason to believe you’re actually lying about the data you want changed. It’s an immensely powerful tool to have in your arsenal, as once you’ve changed your name and start your gender transition, your old name/gender is no longer accurate. The organisation is allowed to verify your identity, but they are legally obliged, within 30 days, to respond to your request. And if they deny you, they have to have a really good reason.

Not everywhere has updated to this GDPR world, however. When it’s come to updating my name, most places already had me down as Chris, but the ones that didn’t have been a mixed bag when it’s come to updating my name, mostly as a result of not recognising that a deed poll is a witnessed self declaration and expecting a higher degree of formality. These have almost exclusively been the banks I have accounts with, so time for a little name-and-shame.

  • Santander: the perfect experience. I walked into the branch, told an advisor I was transitioning, sat down, they verified my ID and took a copy of my deed poll, updated my details and then ordered me a new debit card. Thank you Santander ❤
  • Halifax: painful. In my first trip into the bank I was told I was making it up and my deed poll just looked like something I’d printed off myself (which it was, because that’s what deed polls are) rather than an official one purchased from (an interesting take, as only sell the templates and are no more official). After leaving the branch very upset I made a complaint and invoked the GDPR right to rectify and the situation was resolved by a lovely man in the complaints team, and I was given compensation for my troubles.
  • American Express: good. I sent in scans of the change of name form and deed poll online, only to get a response telling me I needed to send a copy of my deed poll. So I replied with the same scan and then it was accepted.
  • HSBC: pending. HSBC’s customer service has been appauling, I’ve tried to go into branch several times only to be told I would have to wait for over an hour to be seen. After finally getting a waiting time of only 45 minutes (although to be fair, it was more like 30 before I got seen), I was told that they weren’t sure what to do with my form and they’d get back to me. Today I was told that what I had wasn’t a valid deed poll as it hadn’t been witnessed by a solicitor (although you don’t need that for it to be a valid deed poll — as the site confirms) and they were sorry but I should try again with a valid one. Infuriating as it is a valid deed poll, so now going through the same complaints/escalation process as Halifax.

Other more formal places (the electoral roll for example) have accepted it no problem, and I’m waiting for the DVLA to get back to me, with their current 8 week waiting period for processing mail sent to them…

But yes, know your rights, and when it comes to trans rights, the GDPR, and specifically the GDPR right to rectify is your friend. Don’t be afraid to use it.



Chris Northwood

A technologist wanting to share knowledge and iterate towards a better world.