Digital Economy Bill

written evidence submitted by ENERGY NETWORKS association (deb 37)

Submission to House of Commons Public Bill Committee for the digital economy bill

Executive summary

The UK’s energy networks have a strong track record of investing in safe and reliable energy infrastructure, improving efficiency and delivering better service to customers whilst keeping costs down.

Energy Networks Association (ENA) is strongly supportive of greater data sharing and for energy network companies to have access to data to better identify and assist vulnerable households.

1. ENA

1.1 ENA is the voice of the UK’s energy networks, representing the ‘wires and pipes’ transmission and distribution network operators for gas and electricity in the UK and Ireland. ENA’s role is to represent the interests of our members at home and in Europe. Through our work we aim to deliver the most supportive environment for investment and development of the energy networks of the future.

1.2 ENA’s overriding goals are to promote the energy networks and enable our networks to be the safest, most reliable, most efficient and sustainable in the world for the benefit of consumers. Delivering for customers is at the heart of what the networks do and ENA seeks to support this through sharing of best practice and as a conduit for sector-wide improvement.

2. The digital economy bill

2.1 The Digital Economy Bill could play an important role in supporting energy network companies to identify and deliver targeted help to energy consumers. By ensuring they are able to access data they can better identify and support vulnerable households who are most at risk of direct impacts of loss of electricity or gas supplies or from cold homes as a result of fuel poverty . The ability of many players to support fuel poverty, including the gas networks and their obligations under the fuel poor network extension scheme would be massively simplified if there was access to relevant data from across departments. This would enable more efficient measures, prompter actions, and support the Government’s aim to ensure fuel poverty measures are targeted at the most vulnerable.

The GB energy regulator Ofgem requires energy suppliers and Distribution Network Operators (DNOs) to provide non-financial services for vulnerable customers such as those who are of pensionable age, disabled or chronically sick, or who may require additional support if without energy supplies. Following a review by Ofgem, the GB-wide Priority Services Register (PSR) eligibility will be changing from a ‘category’ approach to a model based on need. Network operators and suppliers will use the new PSR to identify and proactively engage with customers to identify their potential needs and the appropriate support they can provide. The current system presents challenges, however, where better information and a more joined up approach could better serve consumers. There is a risk that although suppliers would have access to necessary data about their customers, if this is not shared with network companies it could inhibit their ability to provide support as effectively.

2.2 Currently, clause 30 [Disclosure of information to gas and electricity suppliers] enables the disclosure of information only to gas and electricity suppliers. Energy networks are not specifically listed. However, clause 30 contains a power which could be used to make the regulations apply to network companies and ensure the Bill’s provisions apply to Ofgem led schemes. In order to highlight energy network companies should equally be able to access new data, we support National Energy Action’s (NEA) proposal to for consideration of a new clause probing amendment to 30 (4):

(4) The appropriate national authority may by regulations amend subsection   (1)   so as to add the person or description of persons to whom information may be disclosed to include-

(a) a licensed distribution network operator (DNO)

(b) a licensed gas distribution network (GDN)

2.3 ENA agrees with NEA that the new powers given for access to data must be explicit that sensitive information regarding household income, benefit entitlements and energy costs should only be used for the purpose of directly improving the welfare of the individuals whose data is being shared by central Government with other parties.

October 2016

 

Prepared 18th October 2016