UPDATED: Wirral listed among councils selling electoral register to marketing companies (From Wirral Globe)
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UPDATED: Wirral listed among councils selling electoral register to marketing companies
1:00pm Monday 2nd September 2013 in News
WIRRAL is listed as being among hundreds of councils making money by selling lists of voters’ names and addresses to private companies.
Thousands of the “edited electoral registers” have been sold across the country over the past five years to pizza delivery shops, estate agents and direct marketing firms – adding to the avalanche of junk mail.
The electoral register is available for anybody to view in person.
But by selling a database of the information, councils are helping marketing companies use computers to send out thousands of unsolicited letters.
Tens of millions who sign up to vote automatically have their names included on this version of the register if they do not expressly opt out of having their information passed on.
A survey by private campaign group Big Brother Watch found more than 300 councils have sold the register.
A Wirral Council spokesman said: “All local authorities have a statutory obligation to provide the edited version of the electoral register to anyone who pays the appropriate administration fee.
"Between 2009 and 2012, a total of £486 was paid to Wirral Council for access to these records. We haven’t received any requests so far in 2013.
“Residents who do not want their details included on this publicly available version of the electoral roll can opt out, either by ticking the box on the voter registration form or by signing a S11 Data Protection Act notice, which can be downloaded from the Wirral Council website.
"This will permanently remove their details from the edited version of the electoral register.”
Tens of millions who sign up to vote automatically have their names included on an edited version of the register if they do not expressly opt out of having their information passed on.
Their details are then sold on and used to send out billions of personalised items of junk mail.
Big Brother Watch condemned the practice and called for it to be scrapped.
Its research revealed that more than 300 councils sold the register to 2,700 individuals and companies over the past five years. The councils involved made more than £250,000.
Big Brother Watch director Nick Pickles said while it was important the electoral register was a public document which anyone could freely inspect, this should not mean councils could sell personal information to private companies for financial gain.
"Registering to vote is a basic part of our democracy. It should not be a back door for our names and addresses to be sold to anyone and everyone," he said.
‘Many people don’t realise that the pizza shops and estate agents drowning their doorsteps with junk mail are able to do so because their local council is forced to sell the names of every voter who fails to tick the right box when they register to vote.
In many other countries the opt out is automatic and voters must opt in if they wish to be included on marketing lists.
Councils in the UK who have tried to introduce an automatic opt-out have faced legal action forcing them to change back – because the layout of the registration form is set by law.
As well as prompting a deluge of junk mail, there are widespread concerns that the sale of the register is damaging the electoral process.
Mr Pickles said: "The edited register is a pointless waste of council time, undermines trust in the electoral system and contributes to huge volumes of junk mail. It should be abolished.
“An open democracy means councils should maintain a full version of the register that’s available to the public.
"But that should not mean gift-wrapping our names and addresses for estate agents, pizza shops and junk mail marketeers.”
His call was backed by elections watchdog the Electoral Commission, which also raised concerns about potential voters being turned off by the prospect of their personal details being sold.
Among those who bought the data from councils, according to research using Freedom of Information laws, were market research companies, motoring schools, insurance firms, solar panel salesmen, glaziers and credit unions.
Councils in affluent areas were the biggest sellers of the register.
Westminster, Elmbridge in Surrey and Kensington and Chelsea all sold the register to more than 50 buyers.
The edited register was introduced in 2002 amid concerns over the full version being put on sale. Since then around a quarter of all voters have opted out.
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