It’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 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.
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.
Even 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.