Councils opposed to sale of electoral roll to junk mail firms

A survey of councils by the Local Government Association (LGA), shows overwhelming support for a change in the law to ban junk mail companies from gaining...

A survey of councils by the Local Government Association (LGA), shows overwhelming support for a change in the law to ban junk mail companies from gaining access to voters' details through the electoral register.

In July, the Information Commissioner recommended that the government change the law to stop the sale of the electoral roll as it sent out the wrong message about the government's attitude to the safe management of citizens' data.

The survey of 204 councils, carried out by the LGA and the Association of Electoral Administrators, shows that 98% of election officers at councils around the country think the government should change the law to stop direct marketing companies gaining access to the electoral register.

The survey also reveals that 88% believe that the practice of selling the electoral roll discourages people from registering to vote.

The survey of electoral officers also shows that, on average, councils only raise around £1,900 a year from selling the register, and that this is unlikely to cover the cost of administering adapted registers for direct marketing purposes and dealing with requests.

The government changed the law in 2002 to give direct marketing companies the right to buy an edited version of the electoral register from councils.

Residents can remove their name from the list that is sold on by ticking a box on the voter registration form that is posted out every year.

Councillor Richard Kemp, deputy chairman of the LGA, said, "The survey clearly shows that town halls hugely resent having to pass the electoral roll to direct marketing companies. Most people hate junk mail and cold calling and councils do not want to be a part of the process that generates money for junk mail companies in this way.

"Selling the electoral roll undermines democracy, dissuades people from voting and gives people the impression that the council is profiting from selling their personal information. Ministers must change the law to ban junk mail firms from getting their information through the electoral roll."

Kemp said that keeping two separate electoral rolls was "fiddly, costly and frankly a pain in the backside for councils".

A change in the law would cut down on the junk mail that can infuriate homeowners and would also be a way of boosting the number of people who register to vote, at a time when turnout is at an all-time low, he said.

Direct marketing firms claim they mainly use the electoral roll for checking they have the correct details for potential sales targets.

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