The Heat Networks (Metering and Billing) Regulations 2014 were introduced with the objective of empowering the end-users of communal heating systems to better manage their energy use through the installation of individual heat energy meters and free access to consumption data. Two years further on, district heating specialist Insite Energy’s managing director, Peter Westwood, explains how the regulations could pose a data security challenge to housing providers, with customer and consumption data possibly being shared unwittingly with companies that shouldn’t have access to it.
The introduction of these new regulations has brought with them a challenge that won’t previously have been a concern to housing providers. We’re concerned that all this data, which in some cases will include minute detail, such as what time tenants are taking a shower, is not always being safeguarded in the way that it should be.
It is vital that housing providers and heat suppliers get to grips with the important issue of data protection. If they fail to do so, we can expect scenarios such as tenants being plagued by calls from marketing companies who may have gained access to personal data. This isn’t a ‘scaremongering story’ but we don’t want our sector to become embroiled in a row about data security, and we believe that education is a key factor in addressing this issue.
We are talking about data that belongs to the customer as it’s ‘their heat’ but the heat supplier obviously needs to have that data in order to know what should be billed. Meter readings will be done by third parties who will also have access to this data. The role of heat supplier may be performed by a managing agent which means still more people have access. With any communal heating system, there needs to be a clear understanding of who is using the data, for what purpose, and how it is being properly controlled.
One of the major concerns is that, ultimately, if you have more advanced systems, you can tell if people are at home or perhaps on holiday, and the type of lifestyle they lead. Increasingly, this kind of data has a market value.
It is the accidental leaking of information that is the main concern at the moment. We have no evidence of data being shared maliciously, but we are aware of several instances of data being shared without full consideration of the implications. We are convinced that not everyone operating these systems may be aware of the obligations when handling heat data. This lack of understanding could trigger significant legal and reputational repercussions.
The important thing is to ensure compliance. Contracts must state specifically who is allowed to see the data and the analysis and billing purposes it can be used for. Data protection is a very important issue and people need to understand their obligations in connection with it. Housing providers have a duty of care to the people whose data they collect. With only housing providers and appointed heating and billing specialists, such as Insite Energy, needing access to data, there should be no excuse for it falling into the wrong hands.
Peter Westwood is managing director of Insite Energy.