Kirklees Council and The Edited Electoral Register

Covering LetterIt’s that time of year when the local council send out reminders, to their residents, about re-registering on the electoral roll.

I’m not sure why we have to register every twelve months but I do know I will lose my “right” to vote if I do not register (again).

For the past few years I’ve simply filled the form in online and had done with it.  My partner and I do not have children and the occupancy of our house has not changed in the decade we  have lived together.

In fact the only real upheaval was when we told the council that my partner was now working and had to pay back some of the 25% discount that we had received whilst she was studying for her varying qualifications.

I started to fill the form in online today, paying little attention to the covering letter.

What little attention I did pay, told me that Kirklees Council had decided to revoke my decision to opt out of the “Edited Electoral Register”.

Furthermore, should I wish to opt out, then I may be limited in the methods by which I could complete the form.

The fine printThe meaning of this became apparent after I logged into the online form completion site.

If I wished to opt out of the edited electoral register, then I would not be able to do so online.

Following the links given, I discovered that a recent change in legislation means that I have to physically sign a form to confirm that I have asked the inhabitants of my house if they wish to opt out – even if we have opted out previously.

This effectively means that every Kirklees resident has been casually opted in!

I strongly believe this is a bad thing.  Not because I object to the edited electoral register but because I believe that once you have opted out of something then it is your choice whether you are opted into it or not.

Before I explore that belief further, I should explain a little about the Edited Electoral Register and why you have a right, as a citizen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, to opt out of it.

Kirklees Web

From Spring 2001 and to Autumn 2006 I worked for a West Yorkshire based Direct Marketing Bureau.  The company I worked for handled list brokerage, data capture, cleansing and related services to the Direct Marketing industry.

In layman’s terms we bought and sold data and data services.

One of the many lists of data that we handled was the UK Edited Electoral Register; a subset of the UK Electoral Register (which we also handled for credit referencing purposes).

The  Electoral Register is simply a list of names and addresses of everyone within the United Kingdom who has registered to vote.

The Edited Electoral Register is a list of names and addresses of everyone within the United Kingdom who has registered to vote but who hasn’t opted out of the Edited Electoral Register.  There are around 25 million names and addresses on this years electoral roll.

A subtle but simple difference.

The Electoral Register is protected by law.  It is illegal to buy, sell, or use the Electoral Register for commercial means.  The only businesses who can access the Electoral Register are credit referencing agencies, who can use the data to verify that an individual lives where they claim to live and is registered on the electoral register.  (It all seems so simple as I type it).

The Edited Electoral Register is specifically sold to businesses for the purposes of buying, selling or using the data within for commercial means.

My opinion may well be coloured by experiences working in the industry but when I say “commercial means” I mean Direct Marketing.

Junk Mail, Cold Calling, Spam, Spam, SPAM!

Back in the day, the easiest way of getting a list of targets for sales campaigns was to buy a section of the UK Edited Electoral Register.  Sure, it may need processing against the BT directory to get telephone numbers; and it would have needed keeping up to date with changes of address through the Royal Mail’s National Change of Address data, but selling the Edited Electoral Register was like printing money to companies like my former employer.

I come from a demographic that abhors direct sales techniques.  If I want to buy something, I research it online and ask friends and family for their opinion.  I have never, ever, bought anything from a tele-canvasser, door to door salesperson or piece of junk mail.  I do accept that there are people out there who do, I even accept that there are people who enjoy reading junk mail and receiving cold calls.  If there weren’t then Direct Marketing wouldn’t survive as an industry – yet it still hangs in there.

Whilst working in the industry, as well as a deep sensation of hypocrisy, I developed an understanding as to how you could prevent yourself from being targeted by Direct Marketers.  The key method of doing so being to opt-out.

When you fill in a registration form, survey or application, look for the tick box to opt-out of further communications.  There should also be one to opt out of having your details shared with other people.  read them carefully before ticking as sometimes the option is to opt-in when you tick.

There are also services such as the Telephone Preference Service and Mailing Preference Service that Direct marketing agencies are supposed to screen their data against to remove people have registered with them.

An awful lot of effort to go to but worth it if, like me, you don’t want to be inundated by unsolicited calls and mail.

I digressed a little there.  To summarise, the Edited Electoral Register is a way for the local and national government to make a bit of extra money by selling your contact details onto companies who will then use that data for a number of things, including sending you junk mail and calling you to sell you things.

I can’t remember exactly when the edited register was introduced.  I’m fairly sure it was this side of 2001.  I remember the rush to get ready to process it and also the hype about being able to opt-out  (or more so, the lack of it).  I opted out straight away and every year my choice to opt-out remained on my annual registration form.  There were a couple of glitches where it was omitted but this was easily rectified when renewing online by making sure the box was ticked.

Registering online (my preferred method as it costs the council less of my council tax) forces me to accept that my details will be sold to commercial enterprises.And therein lies the problem for me.  I can still opt-out but I have to physically tick the box again and submit the form by post.

The finer printEven worse, my choice in this matter has by default been ignored.  Prior to this update I am listed as having opted out of the edited register but the council are ready to revert that option for everybody who does not submit a signed form to opt-out – in many cases forcing them to opt-out again!

I’m sure this must be a breach of my human rights somehow.  What about all those people who just register online without reading the letter accompanying the form?

I accept that they should read the letter but then what if they read it after filling in the form online?

I know I shouldn’t be so wound up about it.  All I have to do is submit my paper form through the mail and I’ll be opted out again – but that isn’t the point.

Kleeneeze, Betterware and the Secrets of Hard Copy Spam

Pile of junkI have to admit, I am not the tidiest of people.  I think I probably have a subconscious problem with regards retention insofar as I hoard things.

This retention extends to junk mail as much as it does anything else.  Rather than throwing it away I set it to one side with the excuse:

I’ll shred that later, do my bit for the environment.

Of course, “later” never comes and only when I’m left with an unmanageable pile of hard copy Spam do I throw it in the recycling bin, often neglecting to shred it.

So you might see why I get annoyed at the amount of junk mail that is forced upon us.

My DeskThere is a solution to most junk mail, in the form of the Mailing Preference System (MPS).

I used to work in Direct Marketing and throughout the 6 years I spent in the industry I learnt a lot about how to get yourself off the marketing lists.

I also learnt that more and more companies at the time were starting to break government legislation and ignore the preference lists.  I think this was down to the toothlessness of the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) and the Direct Marketing Authority (DMA); and the increased use of offshore marketing offices.

It has been a while since those days though, the industry has likely changed again.  Back in those days there were only around 8 million people in the UK that were on direct marketeers’ databases; the number was dwindling even then.

Still, the MPS solution still exists, as ineffective as I might believe it to be.  It stands as a beacon for those of us who don’t want junk mail through our doors.

But there is a far more insidious threat to my letterbox… the home shopping catalogue and the selfish pimps who supply them.

From the outside, home shopping companies like Kleeneeze and Betterware are as innocuous as mail order companies or the likes of the Kays Catalogue.  What makes them so detestable is the way that they operate.

These home shopping companies operate through the use of door to door sales people, like some kind of underworld fixer. These tools of oppression wander their neighbourhoods depositing their catalogues, whilst their neighbours are gainfully employed elsewhere.

KleenezeOn returning home from a hard days work, the recipient of said catalogue files it along with the other junk mail they have received that day. They often ignore the note attached. It usually reads something along the lines of:

Here’s your latest Sneeze Easy catalogue!

I’ll be back to collect it:

Monday,
Tuesday,
Wednesday,
Thursday,
Friday,
Saturday,
Sunday

Please leave it on your doorstep for collection.

Thursday comes and goes without the recipient batting an eyelid, they’ve already picked up and filed the note that reads:

I came to collect my Sneeze Easy catalogue today and to take your order.
I’ll be back on …

BetterwareSooner or later the catalogue distributor realises that daytime calling isn’t working, this is where the problem reaches its climax.

Picture the scene:

You’ve had a hard day at work, you’re just settling down to your evening meal and the doorbell goes. You set your meal down and answer the door, only to be greeted by a stern faced neighbour.

Hello. I’m from number 73 down the road. We’ve never met but I left a Sneeze Easy catalogue with you a few days ago.

You deny ever seeing the catalogue but way back in the dark, dank recesses of memory you seem to remember the name “Sneeze Easy” from the day you did all that shredding.

Well, if you’re not going to order anything I need the catalogue back?

Again you offer only denial. Maybe you don’t? Maybe you confess to the possibility of having seen the catalogue a week ago, maybe you even confess to shredding it; the outcome of the conversation is no different, regardless of the path you take.

That catalogue cost me £1.50! You owe me money for that!

Green BinIf you’re anything like me, by this point you’re ready to maim. The sheer audacity of them. Every single one of them that I have ever dealt with has ended up accusing me of theft and having the door shut on them.

I didn’t ask them to post the damn catalogue through my door. I didn’t invite them to stick their valuable pamphlet through the letterbox on a promise of returning it to them unscathed.

What is worse is the way that these people have been indoctrinated into believing that they’re future is bright and rosy with their chosen catalogue company. It isn’t their fault that they come across the way they do.

These people have been roped into a world where it is acceptable to expect someone to spend £50 on catalogues that are going to be shredded by their friends and neighbours. It is just the same con as Ann Summers or the Body Shop. I’m not saying that it isn’t possible to make a successful business from this kind of thing; I am saying that, the majority of people I have come across, that are distributing these catalogues seem to have been misled somewhere along the way.

Nowadays I just leave the catalogues outside my front door. If they’re not collected in a week they’re put in the green bin.

That at least gives the poor dupes a week or so to get their pamphlet back.