Data sharing across water and energy to support consumers in vulnerable situations – a project update

The regulators of the UK Regulators Network (UKRN) want to ensure that regulated companies effectively support and meet the needs of those consumers who may find themselves in vulnerable circumstances. Cross-sectoral work with this aim in mind has already taken place, including the UKRN’s plain English accessibility leaflet, on the free support services available across different sectors as well as signposting between water and energy companies, where companies highlight one another’s support services to their customers.

Building on this, Ofwat, Ofgem and the UKRN are working together to identify the potential benefits, opportunities and challenges of sharing vulnerability information – in a targeted, proportionate and appropriate manner – across water and energy companies.

In January we published an open letter to update our stakeholders on progress so far. Since then we’ve completed our desk research and identified a number of key themes; in particular the importance of transparency, data security, consumer trust and a clear value for both them and companies, in exchanging or sharing information.

We’ve been pleased to learn that there’s a lot of positive work going on in both sectors already:

  • The Safeguarding Consumers Working Group (SCWG) in the energy sector has developed a set of standardised ‘needs codes’ to align how the sector records non-financial vulnerability data. These are due to go live in the electricity sector in June 2017. There is clear scope for this work to be replicated in water and companies are looking to move forward on this following Ofwat’s recent ‘unlocking the value in customer data’ workshop.
  • Some electricity Distribution Network Operator’s (DNO’s) and water companies operating within the same geographical area are working together to explore how collaborative working can help support consumers experiencing situations of vulnerability, including data sharing. There are already localised schemes taking place across the two sectors, mostly in the form of sign posting to support services available across the sectors at an individual company level and through others, including trusted partners, charities and local authorities.
  • Some water companies have started to rename their special assistance registers, Priority Service Registers (PSR’s) to make it easier for consumers to identify and receive support services by aligning with the same terminology used in energy.

This work represents a good start but we want to see companies go further. Although some companies are cautious around the concept of cross-sector information sharing, there is a palpable appetite from most for further progress in this area.

The engagement phase of our project is almost complete, and we plan to publish a report in Summer 2017. The report will consider the case for vulnerability information sharing between water and energy companies by identifying the benefits, opportunities and challenges, as well as shining a light on positive cross-sector work already taking place.

If you are interested in this work or in engaging with us further, please contact vulnerability@ofgem.gov.uk or ukrn@ofwat.gsi.gov.uk. For further information on UKRN please contact sophie.richings@ofcom.org.uk.

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