Democratic value? The sale of the edited electoral register


Today we have published our latest report, Democratic Value, looking at the scale of the commercial use of the edited electoral roll.

Councils have no say in selling the register – and it probably costs more to administer than they bring in through charges – but threats of legal action mean they can do little to assist residents and there is not widespread awareness of understanding of why there are two versions of the electoral roll.

This confusion exacerbates the fundamental privacy issue with councils being mandated to law to make available for purchase the names and addresses of those who do not opt-out. That is a law for Parliament to change, and it should do so at the soonest opportunity.

Between 2007 and 2012, more than 2,700 different organisations and individuals purchased the edited register, with some local authorities seeing far higher levels of use.

Four councils sold the edited register to more than 50 buyers (Westminster, Elmbridge, Kensington and Chelsea, Broadland) while 19 councils sold the edited register to between 25 and 49 buyers.

The sale of personal information by public authorities, particularly for marketing purposes, is something that should never be routine. It undermines trust and confidence in the wider public sector’s ability to protect people’s privacy and potentially deters people from engaging in a critical part of our democracy.

This doesn’t mean the electoral roll shouldn’t be accessible to the public, but the current situation is not one designed to bolster our democracy.

We wholly agree with the Electoral Commission, the Local Government Association and The Association of Electoral Administrators that the edited register should be abolished. We believe that the existence of the edited register impacts on election participation as people are concerned about their personal information being shared for marketing purposes and undermining trust in the electoral registration system.


We have produced a draft letter you can use to permanently opt-out of the edited register, which you can find in the Take Action section of the website here.


  1. sky
    2nd September 2013

    I have opted out of the edited register year after year as I have no wish for companies or individuals to buy my personal data (the buying of personal data should be made illegal unless the owner of that personal data has consented). If they abolish the edited register does that not mean that marketing companies will be able to buy and use the full register? If this is the case then I certainly would not want the edited register abolished as this would remove my ability to not be included in the edited register.

    I have no trust in the electoral system or register and even less now that they are going to demand that we give them our date of birth and national insurance number from next year to be included int he electoral register.

    Is it legal to opt out altogether?

    I wrote to the PM decades ago about the electoral register and the risk of people getting hold of personal data that could be used for marketing but also for criminal purposes. I was told that there was no reason to believe that there was any risk.

    • firebird2110
      2nd September 2013

      What? Well I’m not giving them my date of birth and national insurance number, combined with name and address that’s just asking for identity theft!

      And thanks for the link BBW, I’ll be opting out today. Didn’t know it was an option.

      • Guest
        2nd September 2013

        You haven’t actually read that form then, there has always been an opt out, it’s next to the “about to turn 18” tickbox or something like that

      • Sky
        2nd September 2013

        The DOB and national insurance number is to identify you and not for publication (I assume). I would still not want to give these data.

  2. John
    4th September 2013

    Maybe this is another case of semantics. As legalese meaning doesn’t necessarily reflect plain English, the action of registering, which is a legal action cannot be assumed to contain safe guards as we understand in plain English. Surely in accepting the paper identity which enables us to vote, voids any control we assume the legal system has granted? After all there is little evidence to support the notion that legality protects the rights of free people.

  3. Wrong number – 2040 information law blog
    11th September 2013

    […] the pulse by highlighting the big privacy issue of 2002: the sale of the Edited Electoral Roll. The Daily Mail dutifully served up a monster portion of outrage: “SOLD FOR £5: YOUR PERSONAL DETAILS”, and a […]

  4. Sybil
    20th September 2013

    Wow that was unusual. I just wrote an really long comment but after I clicked submit my comment didn’t show up. Grrrr… well I’m not writing all that over again. Regardless, just wanted to say great blog!

  5. Birmingham Guild of Students in the news – Buying the electoral register. | Slaney Street
    8th October 2013

    […] leads from the publication the Democratic Value report by Big Brother Watch. A campaign supported by individuals including Tony Benn and David Davis MP. The report looks at […]

  6. David M
    22nd November 2013

    Whilst I agree entirely in principle that the edited register being sold is a bad thing in terms of trust etc, I don’t think its removal would actually change things too greatly – marketers would simply use an address list of properties and address their marketing to ‘the occupier’ instead of a person’s name. The Junk mail would still continue to flow. d