Energy Bill [Lords]

Memorandum submitted by Julian Todd (EN 25)

1. Summary: Information about the energy performance of buildings is now virtually unavailable to the housing market and is likely to remain so in spite of the passage of Clause 72 of the Energy Bill. Unless this information becomes properly accessible it is unlikely that energy efficient buildings will command the price differential that they deserve.

2. Parliament should use this opportunity to move control of the database of Energy Performance Certificates from the Department of Communities and Local Government to the Land Registry where the information can be disseminated to the market in the same way that house price sales, mortgage details and flooding risks currently are.

3. About me. My name is Julian Todd and I am currently CTO of ScraperWiki Ltd, an open source data technology platform. I am writing this submission entirely in my own capacity. I have long held an interest in the gathering and re-use of government data sets. This particular data set was brought to my attention by a colleague in the green energy industry. It represents one of the worst cases of unnecessarily lost opportunity among all the government data sets I have encountered.

4. Details. Under the current regulations[1] it is an offence to disclose information derived from an Energy Performance Certificate of a building to someone who is not legitimately connected to the decision to purchase that building.

5. This prevents comparisons from being made between the performance of houses that are of similar original design in the same area. It also prevents energy performance companies from contacting home owners in order to offer them deals regarding the improvement of their homes.

6. The DCLG has just concluded a consultation in which they restated the view that EPCs constitute private personal data that cannot be disclosed under the Data Protection Act.[2] Their argument appears to rely on the fact that an EPC lists an address to which a person’s name can be associated using the electoral register.

7. This is an unusual determination which appears to have been made without any reference to the handling of other information related to private dwellings, such as planning applications and property sales. These are entirely accessible to interested parties in the market. Indeed, fears and concerns that were put forward in the DCLG’s privacy impact screening[3] could have been put into perspective on the consideration of the handling of this other data.

8. For example, many enterprises in the building industry rely on making unsolicited calls to properties that have just changed hands or have had a planning application made. People also receive calls from gas companies and electricity companies enticing them to change their provider in order to benefit from a cheaper deal. Those who object to these approaches are able to register with the telephone preference service. There is little sign of any widespread dissatisfaction or legal challenge to this state of affairs. There is nothing about an EPC to suggest it is special in relation to any of the other available house based data.

9. In the course of a long running Freedom of Information Request (now under review by the Information Commissioner), the DCLG has not been able to produce the authoritative legal basis which holds that EPCs constitute private personal data.[3]

10. Meanwhile, the Land Registry holds and sells house sale information as well as property extents and surface access.[4] This is the place that estate agents go to in order to inform their property valuations in a varied and changing market. If it is seen as desirable for a home owner’s investment in the energy efficiency of their property to be reflected in the market price for that house in comparison to houses that have not been improved, then this information should be disclosed in the same manner to the same parties.

11. Clause 72 of the Energy Bill states that the Secretary of State shall make regulations for disclosure some statistical information from the register of energy performance certificates. This does not appear to be a change in the current law by virtue of the fact that the Secretary of State has already made such regulations in 2007. There is no doubt that the regulations are going to be in accordance with the department’s consultation.

12. I urge the committee to cause a review of the department’s questionable handling of what should be a strategic data set for the purpose of rapidly improving the energy performance of the nation’s building stock. At the very least, the privacy implications of this data set should be considered by an expert legal professional who will have to take account of the handling of similar classes of house related information when he makes his determination.

[1] The Energy Performance of Buildings (Certificates and Inspections) (England and Wales) Regulations 2007 -- http :// www . legislation . gov . uk / uksi /2007/991/ regulation /14/ made

[2] Making better use of Energy Performance Certificates and data: Consultation (2 March 2010) -- http :// www . communities . gov . uk / publications / planningandbuilding / epceffectivenessconsult

[3] EPC privacy impact screening FOI request 26 June 2010 -- http :// www . whatdotheyknow . com / request / epc _ privacy _ impact _ screening

[4] Find A Property, Land Registery -- https :// www . landregistry . gov . uk / www / wps / portal / FindAPropertyTermsAndConditions

June 2011

Prepared 16th June 2011