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Individual Electoral Registration

Volume 586: debated on Tuesday 21 October 2014

(Representing the Speakers Committee on the Electoral Commission): The Electoral Commission has today published a report containing an analysis of the confirmation live run exercise that took place in England and Wales over the summer and which forms the first stage in the transition to individual electoral registration (IER). The report also summarises general progress with the implementation of IER to date. The commission will report separately in November on Scotland which, as a result of the independence referendum, only began the move to IER in September after the poll.

Confirmation is the process of matching existing electors’ details against the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) database as well as against locally held data to identify which electors could be transferred automatically to the new IER registers, and which ones could not and therefore need to re-register. However, no existing elector will be removed from the registers ahead of the general election as a result of the change to IER. Overall, the results of the live run are encouraging. They are largely in line with the results from the test of the confirmation process in 2013 and the total number of electoral entries that could be matched and transferred onto the new IER registers is 36.9 million.

A total of 42.4 million electoral register entries were sent for confirmation against the DWP database and, of these, 33.7 million electoral register entries matched and could be directly transferred onto the new IER registers. Electoral registration officers (EROs) were also able to carry out further data matching using local data sources, to supplement the matching against the DWP database, and we know that 329 of the 348 EROs in England and Wales have done so to date. A further 3.2 million additional matches were made as a result of these checks. A total of 5.5 million electors could not be matched with the DWP database or through local data matching and could therefore not be automatically transferred onto the new IER registers. EROs will now focus their time and resources on targeting the 13% of existing electors who could not be matched, as well as those not currently on the registers at all. The report summarises why the 19 EROs who have not yet carried out local data matching during this phase of the transition reached that decision, and what alternative actions they are taking to maximise the number of electors registered individually in their areas.

Subsequent to the confirmation process, EROs have been writing out to all electors who could not be automatically transferred to the new IER registers and inviting them to re-register. The commission ran a public awareness campaign across England and Wales during July and early August to ensure that electors knew to expect a letter telling them how they were affected by the change and if they needed to take any action. This supported targeted engagement activity carried out locally by EROs.

The commission’s analysis of the test of the confirmation process in 2013 indicated that there are particular groups who are less likely to be matched with DWP data including students, young people and those renting from a private landlord. This is likely to be because they change address more frequently than the rest of the population and their details held by DWP are therefore less likely to be up to date. Encouragingly, the commission’s analysis of the live confirmation process suggests that local data matching helps to mitigate this problem to an extent with some of these people being able to be matched against local data sources such as council tax databases.

As part of the change to IER in Great Britain, for the first time, people have been able to register to vote online. The commission reports that the take up of online registration has been positive since it launched on 10 June in England and Wales. Cabinet Office figures show that, as of 9 October, approximately 1.8 million applications to register have so far been submitted through the online system.

The commission reports, however, that there have been some issues with the functionality of the electoral management software systems used by EROs, which have affected some—but not all—EROs, and in varying ways. While many EROs have had to revise their plans to take account of a delay to the start of the write-out process as a consequence of these issues, the commission does not believe that any of these issues have or will cause long-term problems for the successful delivery of IER.

The Electoral Commission will continue to monitor the transition to IER closely. The commission will next report on progress in England and Wales in February 2015, following the collection of data subsequent to the conclusion of the write-out and publication of the revised registers by 1 December 2014. The commission will report again on progress in Scotland in April 2015 following the publication of the revised registers by 2 March 2015. A further report on progress across Great Britain will be published in the summer of 2015, which will include the commission’s assessment of whether it would be appropriate to bring forward the end of the transition to IER from December 2016 to December 2015.

The Electoral Commission has also produced a data visualisation tool which is available on its website and will be e-mailed to all MPs. This allows Members of Parliament to see the confirmation rate for their constituency and for the electoral wards within it. It also includes data by local authority area. Copies of the commission’s report have been placed in the Library and it is also available on the commission’s website: www.electoralcommission.org.uk