Easier customer access to data promised

The government has again said that it will act against businesses and other organisations which do not voluntarily release data held on customers who ask to see it. This follows a warning in August from Ministers that  a new law would be introduced if retailers, utilities and ISPs did not comply voluntarily.

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For more information and advice on the Data Protection Act, click here

An new initiative – Midata – calls on firms to provide details to the public in a 'machine-readable' format. Consumer Affairs Minister Jo Swinson will provide more details today.

Under the Data Protection Act, consumers have a legal right to make a 'subject access request' to see the personal information companies and other organisations hold on them. This can incur a fee of up to £10, and not all the data has to be handed over. The government is hoping that Midata will make the process easier and help consumers make more informed decisions about issues such as which energy deal or mobile subscription would best match their habits.

Ms Swinson said: "Many businesses reap huge commercial benefits from the information they gather from consumers' daily spending patterns. Why shouldn't consumers also benefit from this by having access to their own data to enable them to make better choices?"

Consumer rights group Which? believes that Midata could help to boost competition to the benefit of consumers. Which?'s Executive director Richard Lloyd said: "Giving consumers more power with their personal data will help them make better use of their money, and that's not only good for customer-friendly businesses, but good for growth in the economy."

BIS (The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills) says that 20 businesses in the energy, finance and telecoms sectors have already signed up to the voluntary scheme. However, it is holding out the threat of legislation should insufficient numbers of companies comply. If required, the new powers could come into force by early 2014 according to BIS.

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