Latest Public Sector News

26.08.14

Ban junk mail companies from accessing electoral roll – LGA

Council leaders are calling on the government to scrap a law which forces local authorities to hand over personal details of voters to junk mail companies.

Under the current system, the names and addresses of up to 28 million people appear on the open version of the electoral register which any business or individual is legally entitled to purchase from councils.

However, the Local Government Association (LGA) believes this practice could be fuelling a junk mail ‘bonanza’ and may be hampering efforts to get people to vote.

Currently, there are two versions of the electoral register produced each year - a full version and an open one. The details of everyone entitled to vote appear on the full register. This version is not for sale to businesses.

But the open register, which can be sold to any person or individual, includes names and addresses of every person who does not tick the ‘opt-out’ box on their voter registration form.

The LGA states that hundreds of requests for information from this register are made to councils every year from organisations, including marketing firms and estate agents. The current fees for purchasing voter details, set by government, are £20 plus £1.50 for each 1,000 entries in data format. And to receive the printed version is £10 plus £5 for each 1,000 entries.

Cllr Peter Fleming, chair of the LGA's Improvement Board, said: “Councils resent having to pass the electoral roll onto direct marketing companies. Junk mailers and cold callers are a pet hate for many of us. It demeans our democracy for voters' details to be sold off as a tool to help direct marketing firms make money.

“Scrapping the open register would spare millions from being bombarded with junk mail and would remove a hurdle which stands in the way of our efforts to sign people up to vote.”

Last year, a study by civil liberties group Big Brother Watch found that 300 councils had sold on information to some 2,700 companies and individuals over the previous five years.

Daniel Nesbitt, research director at Big Brother Watch, said: “The sale of the edited electoral register has to stop and the LGA is absolutely right to say so. Registering to vote should be a basic part of our democratic freedoms, instead the practice of forcing councils to sell our personal details to anyone and everyone has left people confused about who can get hold of their private information.”

The LGA also claims that recent changes to voter registration have led to a fresh wave of confusion with residents incorrectly believing that their details may now be added to the open electoral register even if they have previously opted out. Councils are working to reassure residents that this is not the case and are urging government to tackle the issue by scrapping the open register altogether.

 Tell us what you think – have your say below or email opininon@publicsectorexecutive.com

Comments

Cllr Lovatt   26/08/2014 at 12:40

The Royal Mail depends on delivering junk mail. If councillors want to put several more nails into its coffin, keep up this whingeing.

Tim Morris   26/08/2014 at 13:09

I waste time sorting my post and putting junk mail straight in the bin. This is waste all around, apart from the income Royal Mail gets (a private company that should be allowed to sink or swim by its own efforts) and the few hundred pounds my council gets from selling my information.

Jean Brown   26/08/2014 at 13:30

We should all have the right to privacy and should not have to 'select' this as an option. Selling on information is morally wrong and if Royal Mail can't make a profit without it then it needs a complete shake down - it should not be seen as our problem!

John Dyson   26/08/2014 at 13:36

It is also a disgrace that a Parish Meeting is not allowed a copy of its local electors whereas a Parish Council is provided with one. Only local electors are authorised to vote at a Parish Meeting, but we don't know who they are!

Janette   26/08/2014 at 16:15

I was appalled to discover the existence of the open register and promptly had myself and my husband removed from it. It beggars belief that anyone should wish to encourage junk mail, and nuisance phone calls, the bane of our lives. There must be millions of people who are blissfully unaware of this situation. If the councils don't like having to do this they should alert everyone spefically about this, or do they enjoy the extra bit of income?

Maz   27/08/2014 at 11:52

I am utterly appalled at this practice and have already contacted my local authority to remove my name from the open register. What concerns me the most is that it's the vulnerable people within our society who will be targeted by these companies. If you purchase anything from elsewhere there is always a box to tick if you don't want your details passed on, quite the reverse with the local authority registers. Our privacy is important and I think we should fight to ensure that our rights are respected and protected.

Kevin Coxon   28/08/2014 at 09:52

If Cllr Lovatt wishes to keep Royal Mail afloat, he should be encouraging it to the more effective and efficient. Or perhaps he can post a letter to himself every day. Sending junk mail is such a wasteful exercise on every level it is an environmental nonsense to start with, and paying somebody to distribute something which nobody wants is just plain stupid. It is akin to requiring staff to water flower beds, even in a thunderstorm. These are costs which are borne by all of us in society to some degree, I would much rather my share was diverted to a more important cause such as preventing child abuse. A simple solution would be to make it law to require people to 'Opt In' to junk mail, rather than 'Opt Out'.

Phil Bosworth   28/08/2014 at 10:58

This is not about selling the open register to companies (not all of whom require it for marketing purposes) but denying a right of access granted by Parliament. Information from the electoral register is used to prevent fraud and pursue people who fail to pay their debts to others. It will allow debtors to proliferate and help deny redress to the honest and wronged. Some local councils already deny access to the full register when a request for inspection is made citing 'data protection' reasons. Denying a right granted by statute is unacceptable and if this proposal goes forth it will provide further ammunition for councils to be even more secretive over the information they hold. With regards to John Dyson's comments about parish councils being allowed access to the full register, this is not true. I am a parish councillor and our district council refuses to supply us with the full register for electoral purposes - we don't know who our voters are either.

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