South Staffs Water: Cyber-attack

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:10 pm on 14 December 2022.

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Photo of Marco Longhi Marco Longhi Conservative, Dudley North 7:10, 14 December 2022

My hon. Friend is right. All I can say is that the situation is clearly unacceptable, and the senior management team at the company now agree that their initial response was not adequate or appropriate. They physically have not had the time to address these concerns yet, but we should all be looking on behalf of our constituents to ensure that their response takes on board all these considerations.

Picturing yourself again as this vulnerable customer, Mr Deputy Speaker, you are then advised that to secure your data, you should register with another organisation called CIFAS—this was one of the things mentioned in the letter—at an additional personal cost, it was suggested by the company, of £25 a year. You are asked to then release yet more personal data on to the internet. That angered me somewhat, and it was one of the first things I mentioned to the chief executive. Their immediate response was, “We have withdrawn that. We are writing again to customers, and we have removed that, as it has created confusion. We should not have done it”, and that is part of the package that the company will be coming back with in support of its customers.

When a data breach such as this has happened, one cannot simply let it go, because it can affect credit ratings, which can in turn affect an individual’s ability to apply for credit, whether a loan, credit card, mortgage or even a mobile phone contract. It could lead to a household finding itself unable to pay for household bills, groceries, electricity or heating. Should the worst happen, a data breach could lead to an individual or family finding themselves severely impoverished through no fault of their own—that point must be emphasised.

I know that I would panic and be extremely anxious, and I am sure that you would be as well, Mr Deputy Speaker, should you have found yourself in such a situation. As many of us in the House will know, good, easy to read and user-friendly communications are vital for keeping our constituents informed and with peace of mind. That is why, after I met South Staffs Water, it acknowledged shortcomings in its initial communications with its customers, and I am assured at this point that it is taking serious steps to mitigate the anxiety caused and ensuring that its customers are supported. I have also asked it to make special arrangements—I do not know yet what they will look like—to reach out to some of those more vulnerable customer groups that I mentioned.

Those of us with constituents who are customers of South Staffs Water and Cambridge Water know that what is needed is better access to over-the-phone support and in-person community support—events and surgeries —to give the best support to the hardest-to-reach members of our communities and to proactively reach those who may not know how to respond to a data breach letter. We must ensure that those who may be less comfortable accessing support online, and indeed those who cannot do so, are not left out in the cold.

I am pleased that, having met South Staffs Water, it has committed to upping its game and is taking better action to support our constituents. What are businesses doing to support our constituents by future-proofing themselves against cyber-attacks? What are the Government doing to assist businesses in that endeavour, and indeed to protect public services that could be victims of such attacks, ultimately to protect all of our constituents?