Amess DavidDavid Amess is the Member of Parliament for Southend West

There are two
versions of the electoral register – a full and an ‘edited’ version. The Edited
Electoral Register (EER) was introduced in 2002 in order that the Full Register
could be restricted for use in elections and very limited other purposes,
leaving the EER to be used by business, government, the voluntary sector and
individuals.  The EER is indispensable because it is the only UK wide
database of people which is collated specifically with their consent.  It
has considerable value both to society and the economy, and it is why I
welcomed the Government’s decision last year to save the EER.

There are some
common misconceptions about the EER: That it increases the incidence of fraud
by making private data public, and; that it makes junk mail possible. 
Both are misjudged.  Firstly, almost all
online retailers rely on the EER to prevent both identity and credit card
fraud. This edited version is also used for a whole host of other positive
reasons: for example, by people and charities such as the Salvation Army to
reunite missing families or the Antony Nolan Trust to locate bone marrow
donors, journalists to validate stories as well as businesses to reduce their
exposure to fraud.

Secondly, the
EER in fact permits direct mail companies and fundraisers to remove people from
their target mailshots and to ensure a greater degree of accuracy. 
Unaddressed mailings are easily dealt with – but the easiest way is to register
with the ‘Mail Preference Service’ which allows your details to be removed for
unsolicited post.

But as we move
to Individual Electoral Registration (IER), the EER – though saved – is still
at risk of being undermined. The Cabinet Office has an important opportunity to
maintain and strengthen this valuable resource.

Under IER, many
electors will now be able to make their own choice about whether to remain on
the EER. At present, whoever fills in the form effectively makes this decision.
  Voters should be able to independently choose for themselves
whether they want to recognise the case by charities, businesses and credit
agencies to use their data. As a Conservative MP, I believe that business is
the driver of economic growth and innovation and that being on the EER is just
one of many areas we can take action to support enterprise.

Registration Officers (EROs) play a vital role in our democratic process and I
know how hard those in my constituency of Southend West work too.  Believing that the Edited Register is the
source for all junk mail, some EROs have mistakenly decided to encourage voters
to opt-out from it and have thus undermined its value. Some EROs have done this
through guidance which is misleading.  Other have promoted practices such
as ‘pre-ticking’ the option box in favour of opting out from the Edited
Register with the consequence that their choice to opt-out or not is effectively
removed. Some have done both.

whole situation has become confused.  The simplest solution surely is to
include a tick-box which would opt voters out of direct marketing use. 
This should not be pre-ticked by the local authority.  It should be for
each individual voter to decide.  The Government should then oblige EROs
to issue consistent and balanced guidance about the pros and cons of being on
the Edited Register so voters can make an informed choice for themselves.

None of this
would involve extra cost.  All of this would give greater choice to the
individual.  And that, afterall, is what this was supposed to be about in
the first place.

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