Irish Water and PPSN data

This morning the Irish Times has a story about Irish Water, landlords, tenants, and PPSNs

The article tells us that:

Bills are to be issued quarterly, but as Irish Water will have the tenant’s PPS number, the utility firm will be able to pursue the tenant for any arrears and even apply any arrears to new accounts, when the tenant moves to a new address.

What this tells me as a data geek is:

  1. Irish Water has a purpose for PPSN data that goes beyond the purpose agreed with the DPC (the validation of allowances)
  2. They are using PPSN as a primary key to identify people linked to properties (which goes beyond the “validation of allowances” purpose agreed with the DPC)
  3. Irish Water have some mechanism to identify tenants versus landlords, otherwise they are retaining ALL PPSN details for a period of at least six years. (It may be the PRTB data they have access to under S26 of the Water Services Act 2013).
  4. The retention period for PPSN is likely to be 6 years from the date of the final bill issued, but only where there are arrears on the account. Therefore, retention will be a rolling period for PPSN as bills are issued. It will only crystallise at 6 years once a final bill issues.
  5. The tenant who fills out the Irish Water application will be responsible for any arrears, even if they only wash every second week while their flatmates operate a water park in the kitchen.
  6. Irish Water haven’t modeled scenarios correctly as not every tenant in a rented property will be registered on the Application form… only one. I refer back to point number 5.

Let’s just remind ourselves of what Irish Water told the Data Protection Commissioner they were going to use PPSN data for. The quote below is from a letter sent by the Acting Data Protection Commissioner to Roisin Shorthall TD that I blogged about last week.

The collection of the PPSN for use by Irish Water in verifying occupants of a household is provided for in legislation. We are satisfied from this Office’s interactions with Irish Water that it is intended to use the PPSN for the sole purpose of confirming the qualification for a free water allowance of occupants of the household (including children) and in line with conditions set down for its use by the Department of Social Protection. However, we are in agreement that the Data Protection Notice published does not currently give sufficient clarity and detail in this regard and we are corresponding with Irish Water and providing our views on this.

I’ve highlighted the relevant sentence. And the crucial word. So any use of or retention of PPSN for purposes other than validating allowances is potentially a breach of the Data Protection Acts. Full Stop. End of story. Move along.

[It also means that they can’t validate the rest of the data – only the entitlement. So they can verify that the PPSN of Joe Blow is valid, and that the PPSN data provided for Joe’s 623 children is valid and that those 623 children exist and are resident in the jurisdiction. No more. So they cannot legally “enrich” their data from the DSP’s data sets (despite what some people are stating might be the case). Of course, this is a perfect reason why the Water Allowance for Children, which is payable only to children in receipt of Child Benefit, would have been better paid as an allowance from the DSP, as I’ve blogged about already.]

Are Irish Water making this up as they go along ?  If so, this crisis of communication around a critical issue of Regulatory compliance could be a lot worse under the surface. For example, has Irish Water modeled their data and processes to allow for customer life events (births, deaths, marriages, divorces, people moving in, people moving out)? Not doing that will lead to data quality and data protection headaches down the line. If those scenarios are not catered for in their processes, bills will be wrong. Designing for Privacy means considering data and its processing, which means you being to look at how the organisation knows or can know important facts about things it needs to know. Lurching around like a drunken uncle at a country wedding does not suggest good design for processes, data, or privacy.

At an upcoming conference on the 7th of November I’ll be talking about Data Protection, Data Governance, and Privacy by Design. The other delegates include some of the world’s leading experts on Data Governance, Information Strategy, and Data Quality. It’s a pretty darn good conference.

Irish Water might want to send some people so they can learn from the other delegates and I about Data Protection, Data Modelling, and Data Governance.

[Update: This status update has appeared via the @IrishWater twitter account which seems to suggest the Irish Times had it wrong:

Because Irish Water can’t be wrong can they? Left hand needs to communicate with right hand and then talk to their customers!]

Posted in Data Protection, Ethics & Law of Information, Information Quality, The Business of Information.

5 Comments

  1. Pingback: Irish Water and the DPC’s letter and what it means | The DOBlog

  2. Pingback: Reposted: Irish Water, the letter from the DPC, and what it all means | The DOBlog

  3. A quote from an Irish Times article (not even attributed to anyone from Irish Water) doesn’t mean that Irish Water will do what the Journalist thinks they will do .

    • Agreed. But it creates confusion as to the use of the data, appears to be in contradiction of their Data Protection Notice, and I’ve welcomed the clarification provided by Elizabeth Arnett this morning.

  4. Pingback: Morning Ireland, Irish Water, and Data Protection clarifications | The DOBlog

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