CamdenNewJournal

The independent London newspaper

We bought up data on council tenants, admits Thames Water

Suppliers warned they do not have an accurate picture of who lives where - and how much water they use

31 January, 2019 — By Richard Osley

THAMES Water said last night (Wednesday) that it had used a private company to buy up information on Camden’s council tenants ahead of a new billing system.

The revelation came as a shock to many residents who had arrived at the Town Hall for a public meeting with officials on changes to the way they will pay for their water.

During a heated two-hour session, some of them also learned for the first time that a 4.5 per cent rise in bills is on the way, although the suppliers said this hike would affect everybody and not just people living in council homes.

Thames Water has demanded it takes over the direct collection of fees from council tenants, a process previously managed by the council. Representatives were questioned how they had managed to acquire an accurate record of who lived where and how much water they used, or were likely to be using.

Nikki Hines, Thames Water’s social housing manager, said the council had raised data protection concerns about the transfer of personal information, so Thames Water had instead used a private firm. She said: “We went to a third party. We had to send a bill, so we went to a third party and bought the information. We are very well aware that we’ve got wrong names in there. The information is not as clean as if we had got it from Camden.”

One tenant from the Ampthill Square Estate said that new account paperwork had arrived in his son’s name – even though he had moved out 20 years ago.

Thames Water accept there has been similar errors due to the way they have tried to find out who lives in each property.

The company said it has to find some way of estimating bills for properties where water meters could not be fitted.

Liz Wheatley, from Camden Unison, said: “I’d quite like to know who you bought our data off, because I never said that I wanted it sold.”

Ms Hines said: “We did buy your data in – we had no choice,” before adding: “I don’t know the ins and outs, I don’t know how it works.” She later did not know for sure how the company used, Sagacity, was spelt.

Council officers said they had not provided Sagacity with any information on residents, leading to further queries from the floor as to how it was collected.

The meeting was called amid concerns that some tenants could miss out on the best rates after the transfer.

Monika Caro, from the Camden Association of Street Properties (CASP), said: “You’ve gone to a third party with none of us knowing about it and it seems they have given you the wrong names. You should ask for your money back.”

Petra Dando, her colleague in the association, added: “I don’t think the human cost of this exercise has been really calculated. So many people who make these decisions are a million miles away from the people who these changes affect.”

She added: “You’ve said you had a legal wrangle with Camden because they won’t release all the personal details to you, so how can you say that you can put together an accurate profile of the vulnerable people out there and come up with an accurate rate to charge them.”

Ms Hines had earlier said that Thames Water were “heavily regulated” by OFWAT, which would protect residents from big rises every year.

She said the changes to the system were based on trying to have a more direct relationship with customers, helping them on to more favourable tariffs and to respond more effectively to broken pipes and infrastructure difficulties.

“I want to emphasise that when we do take over the billing, you will only be paying what you would have been paying if Camden was billing you,” she added.

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