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Ofgem calls for regulator power to force disclosure of customer data on request

The UK's energy regulator has said that the Government should consider giving it, and other regulators, responsibility for ensuring that businesses that store personal data electronically give some of that data to individuals "in a machine readable format".10 Oct 2012

Earlier this year the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) held a consultation on whether to legislate to make it a requirement for companies to provide individuals with electronic, machine-readable copies of "historic transaction data" they hold when those individuals request it.

At the time BIS said that the "order making power" would only be used to force companies to provide access to "transaction data relating to a consumer’s purchase/consumption of products and services from that supplier; would only cover factual information, for example what a consumer bought, where they bought it, how much they paid for it etc.; would not cover any subsequent analysis that the data holder has undertaken on the information; would only apply to businesses that already hold this information electronically and it will only have to be released if requested by consumers."

It added that businesses would not be required to collect additional information.

In its response (4-page / 146KB PDF) to the consultation, which is seen as building on the voluntary 'midata' programme to which some major companies are currently signed up, and expanding on existing personal data access rights have under the Data Protection Act, Ofgem said it was supportive of the Government's plans. It said that it would like to discuss further whether it should be given an "enforcement role" should the Government follow through on its proposals.

"It may be appropriate for sector regulators, including Ofgem, to play an enforcement role of some kind post the utilisation of any order-making power," the regulator said in its consulation response. "Any such role would clearly need to align with Ofgem’s statutory duties and existing enforcement practices."

"We consider that it is unlikely to be appropriate for Ofgem to have a role in resolving individual customer disputes in relation to access to midata information, but that instead Ofgem would act in the interests of consumers as a whole. The practicalities of any such role would be something we would welcome further discussions with you on," it added.

Ofgem said that some energy companies already "voluntarily" provide "12-24 months of personal consumption data to their customers in a standard electronic format" and said that the information was providing consumers with "greater choice and control over their purchasing decisions". The regulator also pointed to the "roll-out" of smart metering which it said would only enhance the information consumers have access to about their energy consumption.

It said, though, that making such data provision a legal requirement would "act to spur all energy suppliers towards fully implementing the objectives of the midata initiative".

Ofgem said that energy suppliers should be forced to supply the machine readable information for free, particularly as it said that the cost of supplying the data would likely be "low". It said that making the information available for free "should help facilitate the development of new products and services", claiming that a charging model would be "likely to act as a significant barrier to consumer uptake".

The regulator said that it was mindful of data privacy issues and said that there is a "need to ensure that third parties acting in the energy industry are subject to appropriate oversight" when those third parties are authorised by consumers to access their data "directly from suppliers".