ER ban sparks junk mail warning

Marketers will be banned from using the edited Electoral Register – even for data verification – within three years, if MPs sitting on the Select Committee for Political & Constitutional Reform get their way.
The move, which it is feared could spark an increase in poorly-targeted direct mail – especially from charities – has been backed by the Electoral Commission and the Association of Electoral Administrators.
Back in 2008, a survey conducted by the Local Government Association and the AEA found that “almost 9 in 10 electoral officers surveyed believed that the practice of selling the ER discouraged people from registering to vote”.
But, although the DM industry’s reliance on the edited ER has waned since its height in the Eighties and Nineties, many businesses still rely on it to identify and access customers, as well as verify addresses.
In written evidence to the Select Committee, people-finding website stated that the edited ER brings significant benefits to businesses and charities.
Meanwhile, the Credit Services Association, which also incorporates the Debt Buyers & Sellers Group (DBSG), states that use of the full ER should be made available to debt collection agencies, as “not all financial crime occurs at the point credit is granted, use of the register should be permitted throughout the lifetime of the agreement”.
But the Select Committee’s report states: “We thoroughly disagree with the CSA’s proposal. Whatever benefit it might bring, we cannot justify the sale to commercial organisations of personal details gathered by the Government for electoral purposes.
“The Electoral Commission has suggested that if Government decides to keep the edited ER that it should be changed to an opt-in system, instead of opt-out. We suspect that this option might well make the edited ER too incomplete to be of much use. We recommend that the edited register should be abolished.”
The Institute of Fundraising has already spoken out about the move. Policy advisory board chair Mike Wade said. “It is important that charities continue to have access to the edited ER. The data it holds enables charities to fundraise more effectively. Charities are able to verify the information they hold on their databases and improve the accuracy of their mailings. This helps to cut down the volume of unwanted mail sent by charities, ensuring the maximum amount can go to the charity’s work.”
The Select Committee has now sent its recommendations to the Cabinet Office, which has two months to respond.

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