Who: Department of Energy and Climate Change and Energy companies
When: June 2014
Law stated as at: 7 July 2014
The need for transparency on customer energy usage to empower the British public to be able to compare energy plans, based on their own consumption to ensure that they are getting the best deal has been talked about for a while and now the energy companies have implemented new systems to help make it happen.
This initiative follows the Government’s launch in 2011 of the so-called “midata” programme.
So far the programme has been voluntary, but following disappointing stakeholder take-up, it was given potential legal backbone by paving legislation in sections 89-91 of the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013 (“ERRA”).
This gave the Government power to introduce a mandatory system, probably to be administered by the Information Commissioner’s Office subject to funding issues. This would require service providers within specified sectors to provide their customers on request with data about their usage of services provided and to ensure that the “data that is released to customers will be in reusable, machine-readable form in an open standard format”.
In the ERRA the Government focussed on four sectors, energy being one of them, but with the announcement of this latest voluntary initiative, energy providers will be hoping the heat is off their sector so far as any threatened triggering of the ERRA powers is concerned.
In a press release in June 2014 responding to the energy companies’ announcement the Department of Energy and Climate Change (“DECC”) said energy companies have “led the way” with regards to data sharing and “significant voluntary progress has been made” with “[n]ew systems being developed [by energy companies] to make it easier and quicker to switch energy providers” meaning that the legislation is not considered necessary.
Part of the initiative involves consumers being able to authorise third parties to access the energy consumption data which smart meters record so that they can advise the consumer easily and quickly on switching energy providers for a better deal.
What this latest development does mean is that more data about a consumer is being shared with a number of service providers, for example where the smart metering is provided by a third party, that third party will also have access to the customer’s data. The Government are working with the ICO on the midata programme and ICO has commented that it is comfortable with the scheme provided that the data protection principles are upheld.
The midata principles (giving free access to reusable and machine readable data in a portable electronic format) have similarities with the rights given to individuals under the Data Protection Act 1998 for subject access requests (“SAR”) and this may result in a reduced administrative burden to those companies who receive SARs. ICO comments that it is an “effective mechanism” for doing so and also represents good practice in accordance with its code of practice for dealing with SARs.
Why this matters:
The energy sector was one of four sectors identified as being within the scope of the potential mandatory midata scheme foreshadowed by the ERRA. The example set by the energy companies, to be reviewed in September 2014, may well set a precedent for the current account, credit card and mobile phone sectors also under scrutiny – so watch this space.