Labour to soften utilities data ban

Secret Labour Party meeting with British Gas and other utilities to lift embargo on using databases

The Labour Party has held secret talks with British Gas and other utility companies with a view to allowing them to use their customer databases for marketing additional goods and services.

According to a British Gas Trading source, discussions have taken place between the utility giant and the Labour Party.

“We have had a number of discussions with the Labour Party about giving the utilities the ability to compete on an even footing.”

“They endorse our view that the windfall tax, in addition to restrictions on trade imposed by the Data Protection Registrar’s interpretation of the Gas Act, is unfair and that we should be allowed to use our database to compete more effectively.”

British Gas has invested 100m in its database, which it is unable to use. The BGT source says that a repeal of data protection legislation will be vital to achieving open competition in the de-regulated market. “The DPR does not believe that we should be allowed to market electricity to gas customers. That could be interpreted as restrictive.”

The Labour Party plans to impose a one-off windfall tax on the privatised utilities to raise as much as 10bn for the exchequer.

However, a Labour Party spokesman claims that no specific talks have taken place between British Gas and the Labour Party. “We are in favour of introducing competition where possible,” he says.

However, it is unlikely a Labour government would endorse British Gas’ latest attempt to use negative consent – telling customers they agreed to mailings by not refusing them – in a mailing to 19 million British Gas customers (MW March 14).

Last week, the Data Protection Registrar issued a preliminary notice warning of enforcement action against British Gas and Southern Electric. The two companies have 28 days to respond to the threat.

According to sources close to the DPR, four more notices will be issued, three against regional electricity companies – one of which is understood to be London Electricity – and the other one against a water company, understood to be Thames Water.

Marketing Week first revealed British Gas was contravening section 42 of the Gas Act, which forbids BGT from using advertising services for anything other than gas supply to its 19 million customers (MW June 14 1996).

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