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My energy company have estimated the opening meter readings for my move in date for a property.

I have the correct readings in photos taken on that date, but the energy company won't allow me to submit those readings since their terms and conditions state that the readings have to be submitted within a week of the account opening, and I missed that date.

Article 16 of the GDPR gives me the right to correct any personal information held on me by a company.

Estimated meter readings are incorrect by definition and so they should constitute "Incorrect personal information held on me by a company" which I should have the legal right to rectify.

Does article 16 of the GDPR supersede their policy of only allowing meter readings to be submitted within 7 days?

Article 16 states that they can only refuse for a limited set of reasons like for example if the request is only to cause annoyance or is repeated, which doesn't apply here.

Article 16 doesn't say for example "You may refuse if your terms and conditions say so", so the fact that I accepted their terms and conditions should be overridden and not applicable.

The previous tenants didn't provide meter readings for over a year, so the estimate calculated is pretty far off.

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    Estimated meter readings are by definition incorrect, but they are not by definition personal, so your first challenge would be to make a successful argument that this is somehow covered by the GDPR. – Eike Pierstorff Mar 30 at 14:18
  • From a practical standpoint, how far off are the estimated readings? Any recompense you have is likely to take a lot of time and effort on your part, and it's likely that the amount you overpay is an order of magnitude less than the value of that time. – bta Mar 31 at 19:12
  • @EikePierstorff I would argue instead that the law has recognised that they are personal. – JBentley Apr 1 at 23:21
  • @Karl I've re-worked my answer since you accepted it so you may wish to review it to see if it still addresses your question. – motosubatsu Apr 3 at 9:25
  • @EikePierstorff the definition of personal data is "any information relating to an identified or identifiable natural person"; it is difficult to see how a meter reading for a personal residence is not covered by that definition. – phoog Apr 3 at 17:20
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I spent a few years working in and around the Energy industry - including a stint working at a supplier, I'm no longer there so unfortunately I no longer have access to the email chains I had discussing this with legal. The consensus at the time was that a "traditional" i.e. non-half-hourly (NHH), non-smart meter reading itself was not considered personal data - they are conceptually tied to a metering point (which may or may not be a physical meter), not to an individual and don't represent an individual's energy consumption (the granularity of the reading is insufficient to tell anything about the usage profile)

But this information, while all around the implementation of GDPR it was a couple of years back and to be honest it was bugging me that I might be out-of-date on the current practices so I reached out to a former colleague who was the Data Protection Officer at the supplier I worked at to try and get a more up-to-date take. He's since moved on but was there until recently so has more experience with the topic since GDPR actually went into effect.

I asked him whether a) estimated opening reads were considered "personal data" and b) what would happen with a request to change one under article 16 and he had this to say, I've translated industry-speak in square brackets:

a) for NHH ["Non Half Hourly" - meters that are read ad-hoc, essentially all non-smart domestic meters will be this] an estimated reading wasn't personal data automatically until the billing flag was set in CRM and those would be the only ones we'd include on an SAR [Subject Access Request], any others are internal data not personal. HH ["Half Hourly" - meters for higher consumption users, typically larger business premises are billed on increments for each half hour so have readings for each] and remote [smart meter] readings are always personal for domestic and microb [micro-businesses are a certain class of non-domestic energy customer see condition 7A]

b) erm no! we'd only change it if the value in CRM didn't match the value in the D10 [industry Data Flow used to transmit meter reads] for some reason. if they match it's an accurate representation of what we estimate the reading to be so it's just a vanilla billing dispute not a data protection issue so i'd have punted it to [name of person who was head of metering]

From that it would sound as though the estimated read would count as personal data - so long as it's being used for billing purposes, but that doesn't mean they have to accept your read in it's stead.

It all comes down to accuracy - GDPR requires that personal data be "accurate" but provides no definition as to what "accurate" means (which makes sense since you can't give a one-size-fits-all answer that isn't an encyclopedia) and while The Electricity Directive 2019 confirms the need for accuracy in billing again it doesn't tell us what that means. The implementation is left to member state regulators.

In the UK this is OFGEM and all opening meter readings are validated through third parties (so you don't end up with the foxes guarding the hen house!) and are calculated using the following formula:

Last validated reading for the meter point <= supplied reading <= (expected daily usage x number of days since last validated reading x 2.5)

where "expected daily usage" is obtained from a database maintained by the regulator - it's calculated off meter type, property type, property use, previous validated reads etc.

So if the customer provides a reading that falls outside the above the supplier can (and in practice invariably will) reject it as being inaccurate.

Now this is why the when a meter reading is provided matters - reads you provide are always assumed to be the read on the day you give them. With opening reads there's some leeway, I can't remember the official rule on how much but usually they give you up to the next estimated read is generated but more on that later.

Now if the reading you're trying to submit is a "now" reading and it's failed the validation criteria and you aren't happy with the rejection you can force the issue by demanding the supplier come read the meter.

You don't say how long has passed since the opening read - more than the week from what you've said so presumably at least a month (guessing you've had at least your first bill).

Now if they are saying the opening read was X (based on the estimated usage) and you're it should have been X + Y and the current reading is X + Y + Z you want to pay your actual usage Z not Y + Z. What you need to do is dispute the opening read, which you're entitled to do, arguably GDPR of Article 16 gives you this right, but on it's own it's a weak argument. There's established means by which an estimated read's "accuracy" is determined and assuming they followed that they're going to just tell you that as far as they are concerned it is accurate. Any challenge to that accuracy is going to have to be done within the legal/regulatory frameworks for assessing accuracy, that's what they're there for, if they won't accept your reading escalate that to the regulator - and as soon as you can. OFGEM for example allow disputing of opening reads for 12 months - it doesn't have to be resolved within that 12 months it just has to be lodged with them within that time.

If you try and use the GDPR angle to pursue this IMHO it's going to muddy the waters and not help you get what you need - pursue this on billing accuracy.

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Dale M Apr 2 at 23:45
  • Thank you for the edit, it is now an excellent answer. The previous version mis-applied the PII concept and was too absolute, but the current analysis is spot-on, and the background from the energy industry is very valuable. – amon Apr 3 at 18:18
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While the other current answers both provide valuable insight they don't actually discuss whether the GDPR applies one dismissing it, without a full argument and the other assuming it does.

It is not perfectly obvious whether a standard meter reading is covered under GDPR.

The definition of personal data under GDPR is extremely broad, See https://gdpr.eu/eu-gdpr-personal-data/. Note: This is not official EU advice, but it is a commercial information site created with EU funding by Protonmail a secure email provider, whatever that exactly means.

Now your energy consumption is definitely personal data. It is "Any information" (see what I mean by broad) "relating to" yes relates to you

Records about electricity and water usage would be considered personal data as this information is used to determine how much to charge an individual.

That settles part of the issue. The other part is whether a single individual meter reading is personal data. This I think can be argued both ways. It does factor into the resulting personal data, your energy consumption, but in itself it really does say very little. I would think that you might be able to argue it's personal data, but I don't think you really need to. It should be enough to argue that your consumption is personal data and due to them having the wrong meter reading they have the wrong consumption and they should fix that irrespective of the initial meter reading.

All of that though is extremely likely the wrong way to go about this. You don't really care about the way they are processing your personal data in this instance, you care about the amount they are charging you for energy used. There are better ways to do that, which most likely will be faster and cheaper eg. Motosubatsu's answer.

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    It's worth noting that the GDPR.eu website is not an official website of the EU, so that the article you are citing is only third-party analysis by Protonmail. The quoted snippet is a reasonable opinion, but not authoritative. – amon Mar 31 at 9:34
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    @amon That is a good point and I will add it as a disclaimer. I could not actually find an authoritative source regarding this. The two large energy companies we work for have both automatically agreed that energy usage is personal information. The amount of things you can extrapolate from it is staggering especially for smart meters. – DRF Mar 31 at 12:57
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    "personal data’ means any information relating to an identified or identifiable natural person" (article 4). A large amount of readings might identify you. E.g. if you are the only guy at Wittlich which does the laundry at 4 a.m. your electricity records would be identifiable information. The amount of electricity you spend per unit time, may well be, since that derives from you showering, ironing, switching on the TV, etc. But I don't thik a single reading would pass the required threshold. – Ángel Mar 31 at 23:37
  • @Ángel It would pass the threshold because it is stored next to your meter point reference number, which is stored next to your name. It is also stored in the same record as the previous meter reading, resulting in the electricity per unit of time that you described. Data points don't exist in isolation. GDPR doesn't apply to individual data points one at a time; the context matters. – JBentley Apr 1 at 21:34
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    @Angel See e.g. the ICO's guidance: "When considering whether information ‘relates to’ an individual, you need to take into account a range of factors, including the content of the information, the purpose or purposes for which you are processing it and the likely impact or effect of that processing on the individual." (emphasis added). Readings are processed in order to calculate bills, which clearly have an impact on the person. – JBentley Apr 1 at 21:34
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I think you might be missing the point of accurate or corrected information. Your data is accurate. Your bill will state which meter reads are estimated, therefore this is accurate. Your utility supplier will also have a record of you providing your meter reading outside of the billing window and therefore could not use it/them on your first bill. This is also accurate. From what you have described, there are no inaccuracies: You provided your actual readings too late, therefore estimated readings will be used.

Check the supplier's privacy policy and see what it says it will, wont, can and can't do with your data, specifically with regards to your meter readings. That should give you a better insight into their obligations. You should also check your T&Cs to see what your obligations are.

If you're still not happy, you should complain to them directly, in writing. This will then open the option for you to escalate to the energy ombudsman if you're not satisfied with their response.

If at this point you still dont think your GDPR concerns have been addressed, you could raise your complaint with the ICO, but I wouldn't rate your chances any higher at this point.

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  • I very much doubt the courts would agree with such a pedantic approach. The important thing here (in terms of data accuracy) is not the date that you provided the meter reading. It's the date that the meter reading was taken on. OP stated: "I have the correct readings in photos taken on [my move in date]". The electricity has recorded a different reading on the move in date. Therefore that reading is inaccurate. Note that this is the case, regardless of whether you agree that the GDPR is applicable here. – JBentley Apr 1 at 21:41
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    I disagree. I think it would be frivolous to go down this line. The correct course of action would be to complain to the supplier. If no luck with raise with the ombudsman. If the OP doesn't see a resolution through that action then maybe the fault lies with the OP in that they didn't submit their meter readings in time to have an accurate bill generated. – Kwola-T Apr 1 at 22:25
  • And the answer is no, not in the way the OP hopes – Kwola-T Apr 2 at 7:00
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The Art 16 right to rectification reads:

The data subject shall have the right to obtain from the controller without undue delay the rectification of inaccurate personal data concerning him or her. Taking into account the purposes of the processing, the data subject shall have the right to have incomplete personal data completed, including by means of providing a supplementary statement.

This right applies very broadly:

  • If you want to rectify or complete personal data, and
  • either
    • the data is inaccurate, or
    • the data is incomplete, and completion is in line with the processing purpose

But all of these points can be argued either way!

  • The meter reading is personal data in the sense of the GDPR because it is associated with an identifiable natural person, you.
  • The initial meter reading isn't personal data because it doesn't relate to you, whereas later meter readings might relate to your consumption.
  • The estimated meter reading is inaccurate, thus giving rise to a right to rectification.
  • The estimated meter reading doesn't represent inaccurate data but incomplete data, and rectifying this data would always be in line with the purpose of accurately measuring your consumption.
  • The estimated meter reading may be incomplete data, but providing the initial meter reading after 7 days would run against the purpose of accurately measuring your consumption since the meter reading you provide might already include over seven days of consumption – there is an unreasonably large opportunity for abuse.

I am of the opinion that treating consumer rights matters like this as a GDPR problem is not helpful. In addition to your personal data rights, you must also consider the energy provider's and the previous owner's interests. While the exact length of the time window for the initial meter reading might be debatable, having such a deadline is reasonable. And as outlined above there are at least two ways to argue that the right to rectification doesn't apply.

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  • The information on the meter is associated with the meter itself, not the person who happens to be in possession or ownership of the property at the time it is taken. – Nij Mar 31 at 7:31
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    @Nij By that argument, the cookies in my browser aren't associated with me but with my laptop – that may or may not be the case depending on context. The GDPR specifically defines personal data as any information relating to an identifiable person, which means that it depends more on how the data is used than how it is measured/obtained. In general, energy consumption data of a household is clearly personal data in the sense of Art 4(1), but I agree with you (and have discuss in the answer) that the initial meter reading might not be personal data. – amon Mar 31 at 7:52
  • @JirkaHanika You're focusing too much on the meter, and not enough on how the energy consumption relates to a data subject. A hotel's meter would relate to the entire hotel which isn't a data subject, unless they have per-room meters and measure consumption for each guest. In contrast, the energy consumption of a household clearly relates to the members of the household. The same information can also be personal and non-personal data in different contexts. – amon Mar 31 at 10:25
  • @Nij the information on the meter is associated with the person who is in possession of the property by virtue of the fact that association is a transitive relationship: the reading is associated with the meter, which is associated with the property, which is associated with the person. – phoog Apr 3 at 17:35
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I am surprised by the number of answers suggesting that meter readings are not personal data by virtue of the fact that they "belong to meters" and do not "belong to people".

The GDPR was not drafted in such a narrow way. To determine whether an item of data is personal data, you do not look at that item in complete isolation. Instead, the analysis should be on the set of records as a whole, with consideration given to the purpose for which the data is being processed.

A meter reading is not processed merely so that it can stay in an isolated set of records for the meter. Instead, it is linked to the account of a customer for the purposes of accurately calculating the customer's bill. It is personal data because it is relating to the individual. Furthermore, the data does not have to be capable of directly identifying the individual; it is sufficient that it does so indirectly. Note that the GDPR Article 4(1) is very widely drafted on this point:

‘personal data’ means any information relating to an identified or identifiable natural person (‘data subject’); an identifiable natural person is one who can be identified, directly or indirectly, in particular by reference to an identifier such as a name, an identification number, location data, an online identifier or to one or more factors specific to the physical, physiological, genetic, mental, economic, cultural or social identity of that natural person (emphasis added).

I think it is fairly clear that a meter reading relates to an individual (because it informs the amount of their bill) and that it can directly identify the individual (because typically such readings are printed directly on the bill along with the meter serial number), but that failing that it can certainly do so indirectly because the meter will be linked to the customer's account in the electricity company's records.

The Electricity Directive 2019 Article 18(1) states that:

Member States shall ensure that bills and billing information are accurate, easy to understand, clear, concise, user-friendly and presented in a manner that facilitates comparison by final customers. On request, final customers shall receive a clear and understandable explanation of how their bill was derived, especially where bills are not based on actual consumption. (emphasis added).

Article 20(f) states:

appropriate advice and information shall be given to final customers prior to or at the time of installation of smart meters, in particular concerning their full potential with regard to the management of meter reading and the monitoring of energy consumption, and concerning the collection and processing of personal data in accordance with the applicable Union data protection rules (emphasis added)

The law has clearly recognised that the installation of a smart meter triggers the "collection and processing of personal data", in particular relating to meter readings. To argue that meter readings are somehow not personal data because they not related to the individual is therefore a weak argument.

Note: I am simply addressing the applicability of the GDPR. Whether or not the OP should take this route as a practical matter is off-topic.

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  • I'd appreciate it if down voters can explain their reasoning, or provide authorities that support the opposing argument. – JBentley Apr 2 at 7:02
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    I upvoted, there seems to be surprisingly many downvotes on this question; got more than the usual share myself. IP adresses which were ruled to be a personal data by german courts, are one example of personal data that's not really associated with a person in any effective way – DRF Apr 2 at 22:08
  • I didn't downvote, but I don't think it is correct to say that you are simply addressing the legal question asked. You have described why meter readings are personal data, but the question is "Does article 16 of the GDPR supersede their policy of only allowing meter readings to be submitted within 7 days?" Also, the law does not say that bills should be "accurate particularly when they have been estimated" but rather that customers must get a clear explanation of the bill's calculation particularly when they have been estimated. – phoog Apr 3 at 17:32
  • @phoog Thanks, I've edited in response to the first point, and deleted that line in relation to the second point as I don't think it was relevant to my answer anyway. – JBentley Apr 3 at 18:28
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Estimated meter readings are incorrect by definition

This is incorrect. An estimated meter reading is probably different from the actual meter reading at the time, but it (by definition) does not purport to reflect the actual meter reading; it is explicitly an estimate.

If the estimated meter reading is indicated as such in the data, then the data are not inaccurate. For example, if a police database records that a witness described a suspect as approximately 180 cm tall when the suspect is actually 184 cm tall, the database is nonetheless correct, because it is recording the witness's description, not the suspect's actual height.

Separately from that issue, a utility's terms of service will typically provide for billing to be based on estimated meter readings under certain conditions. If those conditions have been met, then the utility will calculate the amount due from the estimated meter reading.

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