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New EPC twist: Government allows people to opt out of database

People WILL be able to opt out of having their EPCs made publicly available on the national database.

Yesterday, the national EPC register run by Landmark, the private firm owned by the Daily Mail, went public amid fears that it would be a snoopers’ charter – enabling anyone to search for EPC information using a postcode.

But in what looks like an extraordinary U-turn, the Communities and Local Government Department has very quietly announced that anyone with an EPC can opt out of making it publicly available for data searches.

The announcement was so quiet that Mike Crompton, corporate communications officer of trade body the Institute of Domestic Energy Assessors, said his own industry was unaware of it: “They’ve sneaked this in under the radar – the reason being that they don’t want anyone to know about it. But people should.

“Why should they be inundated with calls from double-glazing firms simply because they’ve put their house on the market? We have been worried about vulnerable clients.”

IDEA is advising all its members to let property owners know they can opt out of the national database. Crompon said: “We are concerned that there are significant security issues: an EPC might say that a property has 90% double glazing which would suggest to a crook that there is a weak entry point somewhere.”

The opt-out is at odds with the uncompromising requirement by CLG that all domestic EPCs must carry the full addresses of the property and cannot be redacted – a major concern for agents for vulnerable clients such as elderly people, or where properties are lying empty.

Yet, despite the clause allowing opt-out from the EPC database, agents will still be required to attach the front page of the EPC, complete with full address, to all property particulars, including those that appear online, for example on Rightmove.

The database opt-out clause has apparently not been publicised to anyone, with even EPC suppliers unaware of its existence. One said that making the public database go live on a Sunday, complete with the opt-out clause, was simply the CLG ‘burying’ its own bad news.

It appears in a pdf document on the CLG website. Despite EAT’s continued requests to CLG for updates, our attention was never drawn to this. A tiny handful of industry providers were apparently sent website links that did not work properly, but others, including Crompton’s own industry body, were kept in the dark.

The opt-out link late last week was also sending out security warnings when EAT tried to use it.

According to sources, CLG are embarrassed about the opt-out clause and still hoping to keep quiet about it, since if everyone knew about it, there could be opt-outs on a massive scale – leaving the whole idea of a searchable public register in tatters.

In the same note about the opt-out, CLG promotes the idea of a public register, saiying: “The register represents an extremely valuable source of information about the energy efficiency of buildings, and the benefits of making use of the data have made it desirable to widen access.”

It says that individuals can look up EPCs for free, and can compare individual properties, whilst ‘authorised’ organisations such as Green Deal providers, local councils, universities and government departments can have bulk access to the data and use if for marketing and research purposes.

Opting out looks to be straightforward and can be done by virtually anyone – owner, landlord, tenant or ‘representative’ – with seemingly no checks.

It simply requires people to define their relationship with the property, file their own names and email addresses, plus the address and postcode of the property concerned, plus its RRN – the Report Reference Number of the EPC itself.

Opting out is also mentioned in passing in a new privacy impact assessment of making EPCs public – also made quietly available on the CLG website.

Organisations – for example, insulation firms – will be allowed to write to someone whose contact details have been obtained from the EPC register up to three times. If they do not get a reply, they must delete the person’s contact details from their database. How this will be policed is not clear.

The latest EPC documents are available via the link. The reference to the opt-out is on Policy Update 4, page 6. (This link is once again proving unreliable, but should work if you paste it in to your browser.)

http://www.communities.gov.uk/publications/planningandbuilding/changesenergyperformance

Source: EAToday 23 April 2012