When you complete your annual electoral registration form you are given the option to opt out having your personal details included on the edited electoral register. It's important to tick the opt-out box on the form.
Why? Quite simply because there's absolutely no advantage in having your personal details included on the edited register. The list can be bought by any person or organisation and the data on the list may be used for any purpose. Junk mailers use the edited register as a cheap and convenient mailing list and people-finding companies such as 192.com use it to sell your personal details. What other people and companies are doing with the data is unknown (as anyone can buy the list and do with it what they like - no questions asked).
There are two electoral registers. The full register lists everyone who is entitled to vote. Only certain people and organisations can have copies of the full register, and they can only use it for specified purposes. These include electoral purposes (which isn't defined and interpreted liberally), the prevention and detection of crime, and checking your identity when you've applied for credit.
The edited register omits the names and addresses of people who have asked for them to be excluded from that version of the register. It's this version of the register that is used by bulk mailers to create junk mail lists.
A bit of history
The edited register was introduced after a High Court ruling in November 2001 (known as the 'Robertson Case'). At the time the Representation of the Peoples Act required Electoral Registration Officers to supply a copy of the electoral register to anyone on payment of a fee. This was challenged by a member of the public (Mr Robertson) who objected to the use of electoral data for direct marketing purposes. The court ruled it's unlawful to sell copies of the electoral register to private businesses without giving people the choice not to have their information used in this way (not doing so was considered inconsistent with both the Data Protection Act 1998 and the European Convention on Human Rights).
Instead of simply banning the sale of voters' personal details the Government of the day decided to set up a second, 'edited' version of the electoral roll. Since, the Information Commissioner, Association of Electoral Administrators, Electoral Commission, and House of Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Committee have all asked the Government to abolish the edited register. Most recently, the future of the edited register was debated as part of the Electoral Registration and Administration Bill. Unfortunately, Government has decided not to abolish the register.
The annual registration form includes an opt-out box with the following text:
If you want to opt out of having your details appear on the edited register, please tick the 'Edited register' box. You must also ask each person named on the form if they want to opt out of the edited register.
Ticking the box will mean you (and other people in your household) will be excluded from the next version of the edited electoral register for the next twelve months. It's worth noting that you don't have to postpone opting out until the next annual canvas. You can opt out at any time of the year by contacting your Electoral Registration Office. You can find the contact details for your local office via the About my vote website (run by the Electoral Commission).
Opting out indefinitely (recommended!)
As mentioned, if you tick the opt-out box on your canvass form your details will be excluded from the edited register for the next twelve months. What's not widely known is that it's possible to opt out until further notice instead. To do so you need to send your Electoral Registration Office a data protection notice. As explained in detail on the Contact the sender page in this guide such a notice demands that the sender will not use your personal details for 'direct marketing' purposes.
If you send your Electoral Registration Office a data protection notice they'll pre-print a tick in the edited register opt-out box on your voter registration form. In other words, you'll be opted out until you ask them to opt you back in again.
A data protection notice is only legally binding if it's submitted in writing (which can be either a letter or e-mail) and if it gives the recipient at least 28 days to comply with your request. Exactly how you word your notice is up to you, but if writing data protection notices isn't one of your hobbies you may want to use the following letter as a template:
[ Your full name ]
[ Your full address ]
[ Today's date ]
Electoral Registration Officer
[ Name of local authority ]
[ Address of local authority ]
Dear Sir or Madam,
Notice under the Data Protection Act 1998 not to use my personal information for direct marketing / share my personal details with third parties
I, [ your full name ] of [ your full address ] require you to [ stop / not to begin ] processing personal information relating to me for direct marketing as soon as possible and in any event within 28 days of the date of this [ letter / e-mail ].
I understand any canvass form I will receive in future will have the opt-out box that needs to be ticked in order to prevent your office from selling my personal details to third parties will have an opt-out tick pre-printed.
Please note that if you do not comply with this notice I can apply to the court for an order against you under Section 11 of the Data Protection Act.
[ Your name ]
Only the elements between square brackets and printed in red need to be customised. As already mention, you can find the contact details for your Electoral Registration Office via the About my vote website. The example letter can be downloaded as a plain text or Open Document file.
- Edited electoral register to be retained (News)
- Section 11 of the Data Protection Act and the edited electoral register (The Diary)
- About my vote (aboutmyvote.co.uk)