Northampton Borough council ‘powerless’ to stop details being sold to junk mail companies

Councils across England are powerless to stop personal details being sold on from the electoral register to junk mail marketing firms.
Councils across England are powerless to stop personal details being sold on from the electoral register to junk mail marketing firms.

Nearly £19,000 has been raised by Northampton borough Council in the past five years from selling on personal details on the electoral roll to junk mail companies - figures have revealed.

The authority has no power to prevent the sale of the details, which can be bought for less than 50p per individual and are a major contributor to the marketing and spam emails people receive.

A Freedom of Information Request has revealed the council makes an average of around £4,500 every year from the practice, though leader of Northampton Borough Council, Councillor David Mackintosh, believes the law needs to be changed.

He said: “There are two versions of the electoral roll - one that is used for official purposes and one that can be sold to companies who are interested in finding out who you are and where you live.

“Everyone has the right to be taken off the public version, and we have no powers to prevent it being sold to marketing companies or people you might not want to have your information.

“We are supporting the Local Government Association’s proposals to limit how the Electoral Roll is sold and who can buy this information.”

The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents councils in England and Wales, believes the practice could be fuelling a “junk mail bonanza” and hampering efforts to get people to vote.

The open register, which can be sold to any person or individual, includes names and addresses of every person who does not tick an opt-out box on their voter registration form.

Hundreds of requests for information from this register are made to councils every year from organisations including marketing firms and estate agents.

Local authorities are legally obliged to sell the details on to anyone who asks for them, but many authorities say this is unhealthy for democracy and causes widespread confusion and mistrust among residents.

Chair of the LGA’s Improvement Board, Peter Fleming, said: “Councils resent having to pass the electoral roll onto direct marketing companies.

“Junk mailers and cold callers are a pet hate for many of us. It demeans our democracy for voters’ details to be sold off as a tool to help direct marketing firms make money.

“In some cases, people have not signed up to vote because they are concerned about their privacy being compromised. Councils always make people aware of their right to opt-out. But the existence of this second version of the electoral roll breeds confusion and mistrust.

“Scrapping the open register would spare millions from being bombarded with junk mail and would remove a hurdle which stands in the way of our efforts to sign people up to vote.”