Freesteel Blog » Why are EPC’s private?

Why are EPC’s private?

Saturday, June 26th, 2010 at 11:22 am Written by:

I was talking to someone about the issue of Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs), and it appeared I had neglected to write it up on my blog.

There was a Making better use of Energy Performance Certificates and data: Consultation that closed on 25 May 2010.

On 13 May I submitted the following response:

My answer to all the questions given in the consultation (closing date 25 May 2010) is that the Performance certificate data for all buildings should be publicly available on the web. This would make it possible for neighbours to inspect each other’s records in the same street and find out how they are performing, and for home improvement suppliers to efficiently find the best business opportunities.

The consultation document is flawed because it found (without any reasoning) that such information was personal data. But this information actually concerns atmospheric pollution discharges of dwellings, and is not personal data any more than planning applications or the colour of the paint on the front door.

The only thing special about this data is its invisibility to our eyes — much of the data is readily available to a camera that can see in the infra-red spectrum.

So please bring into the consultation a discussion about whether this information has any reason to be considered personal data. I concede that publication of this information may be challenging. But without
any challenging action, nothing is going to happen.

There actually was some reasoning included (which I failed to find), in this impact assessment document:

10. There are risks associated with greater access to personal data, for example:

  • increase in junk mailing/contact and organisations making unsolicited contact with
    individuals to market services or products;
  • loss of trust in Government’s ability to handle personal data securely and
  • loss of trust in EPC scheme.

As John Major infamously said: “If it’s not hurting, it’s not working.”

Any policy that seeks to change habits in a way that isn’t immediately apparent — like within one second of doing it — is going to annoy people. Therefore a policy that puts as it’s highest priority that it will not annoy anyone is going to fail.

The EPCs are a political issue, because they were part of the Home Improvement Packs (HIPs) — hated because they interfered with people’s god-given right to sell-on what they knew was a shoddy house for lots of money to a buyer beware.

There’s waste in the economy paying for numerous cheap and ineffective surveys of the same house for the different buyers who lose money as they shop around, rather than commissioning one excellent one, and loss of opportunity because the buyer is usually broke after the purchase having maxed out on their borrowing capacity and now lacks the budget to pay for improvements.

In any case, I have asked numerous people about whether they think the EPC constitutes personal data. No one thinks is is. It’s about the house, stupid. And, in particular, if you’re selling a house estate agents put in online. Who’s personal data could it possibly be if it’s not a sale within a family? The sale price is public data on the land registry.

Yet the Department makes the following considerations:

In determining the best approach for responding to these requests we have been mindful of the data protection and legal considerations which govern the use of data in general and energy performance data in particular. The main considerations are:

  • data must only be used to promote and improve energy efficiency in buildings in line with the EPBD 2002/91/EC under which the 2007 Regulations are made
  • data may only be used for analysis and research to directly support Government policy; monitoring of Government targets; and/or to undertake Government-funded or endorsed activity/programmes to provide impartial information and advice to owners or occupiers of dwellings or commercial or public buildings with an EPC or DEC to improve the energy efficiency of the building
  • data may not be used for commercial or profitable gain
  • there would be no obligation on building owner to take action (either in responding to information or in undertaking energy efficiency works).

So, you will never be forced to do anything, and we won’t help small private enterprises find out the business opportunities. So that’s not going to work, is it?

They go on:

Disclosure of an individual’s personal data engages in particular rights under Article 8(1) of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). We need to ensure that the proposal to share data does not interfere with an individual’s right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence. While this is not an absolute right, any interference must be justified in accordance with the law, proportionate, in pursuit of a legitimate aim and necessary in a democratic society. Furthermore, we have to ensure that it does not breach any common law obligations of confidence. We would also need to ensure compliance with data protection principles.

We have also considered the possible impacts on an individual’s human rights in terms the right to a fair hearing, the right not to be deprived of property and the right to equal treatment and also the common law obligations of confidence. Our view is that any interference with Convention Rights as a result of these proposals is justified given the benefits which would result provided we put in place safeguards to ensure that those with whom the data is shared adhere to the principles set out in the DPA 1998.

As it happens, I was already on the case and had got some useless parts of the contract with Landmark Information Group in April.

The solution is simple. All they need to do is take off the pass-code protection on their on-line database of EPCs. Then I could webscrape it all and make it searchable by postcode, and things would start to happen.

Following the discovery of this Impact Assessment (as I was showing someone everything I knew so far), I have made: this FOI request:

On page 9 of the document “Making better use of energy performance data: Impact Assessment”, published 2 March 2010:

“We have performed a Privacy Impact Screening in accordance with the guidance from the Information Commissioners Office. Taking into consideration the responses to the consultation, we will undertake a small-scale Privacy Impact Assessment to consider and manage the risks of sharing potentially personal data, in advance of implementing the data strategy.”

Can I have copies of:

(1) this Privacy Impact Screening;

(2) the Privacy Impact Assessment, (or if it has not yet happened, when it is scheduled to happen),

(3) any legal advice or opinions relating to the determination and the extent that EPCs of houses at the point of sale (or at any other time) are “potentially personal data” within the meaning of the Data Protection Act.

This blog is my case notes.

1 Comment

  • 1. Wookey replies at 20th August 2010, 3:42 pm :

    Well done Julian. Of course EPCs should be public. Apart from anything else they’d be useful to other potential purchasers (like the rest of the info on the house). And the 3-month validity should probably be upped too. That’s often not long enough for a sale to happen and the chances of is becoming invalid over that period are low.

    I hope you get somewhere with this. Peer pressue is probably the most effective way of getting ‘most people’ to improve the generally woeful houses and habits in this country.

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