Individual Electoral Registration and Electoral Administration - Political and Constitutional Reform Committee Contents

6  Resources and data matching


70. The White Paper provides a framework, but much of the detail of how individual registration will be administered remains to be filled in. Local authorities and the Association of Electoral Administrators stressed the need to resolve much of this uncertainty within a tight timescale. The Government's estimate of the cost of implementing IER is £108.3 million, and the Government states in the White Paper that it "is committed to fully funding the costs to local authorities".[65] However, the White Paper suggests that the move to individual electoral registration may become cheaper over time as "IER also opens up the possibility that the process for registration may be more efficient".[66]

71. Jocelyn McCarley, from the Electoral Office for Northern Ireland, told us that the move to individual registration in Northern Ireland put EROs under intense pressure, despite the transition being fully funded by Government. She stated "we certainly had sufficient resources to bring in individual registration. I think the problem was we ... underestimated the amount of resources we would need in terms of staff. The volume of forms coming into the office was a bit of shock; it all needed data input".[67] Jocelyn McCarley also told us that EROs in Northern Ireland did not have sufficient resources to keep chasing individuals who have not responded to requests for information.[68]

72. There is evidence that some EROs are already struggling to perform their statutory duties. Electoral Commission data shows that in 2010, ten EROs failed to ensure the completeness and accuracy of electoral registration records met agreed standards.[69] Eight EROs also failed to meet the standard for doorstep canvassing in 2010, and three of those have failed to achieve that standard three years in a row.[70] Michel Saminaden, speaking on behalf of local authority Chief Executives, or SOLACE, told us that the move to individual registration would increase the number of registration forms, and would put a strain on EROs' already stretched resources "there is no doubt, because we will be talking with many tens of thousands more electors".[71]

73. We received evidence from local authority staff involved in three of the 20 pilot schemes trialling the comparison of data from electoral registers with government databases that IER would require very different skills and people from the current system

    "gone are the days of the gangmaster driving the team of canvassers to bang on as many doors as possible and get a result, and in comes a much different level of skills around data matching and examining IT systems and so on".[72]

    "we will need a lot more technical staff who can manage all the data matching, rather than, as now, staff experienced in elections and electoral law".[73]

74. John Turner, speaking on behalf of electoral administrators, raised concerns that the lack of detail from Government means that the timescale for commissioning and implementing the relevant IT systems needed for IER is very tight: "as every month passes, it is going to get extremely difficult to ensure that the system is totally workable and that the necessary IT systems that will support that system are in place".[74] The AEA has written that

    "given the scale of the work to be undertaken to deliver the necessary infrastructure including the IT, business processes, data protocols, guidance, and form design, it is essential that the draft secondary legislation is available for scrutiny whilst the Bill is still in the UK Parliament … Further, it is vital to bring into effect in sufficient time any provisions (whether in primary or secondary legislation) necessary to enable work to commence on developing and testing that infrastructure".[75]

75. We recommend that the Government publish the information, including draft secondary legislation, that electoral administrators need to deliver the necessary infrastructure for individual registration as soon as possible after the Individual Electoral Registration Bill is introduced.

76. The Electoral Commission has argued for powers to assist or sanction EROs who repeatedly fail to discharge their statutory duties, to help ensure that the transition to IER meets minimum standards across Great Britain.[76] Any inconsistencies would become more apparent in future given the larger number of parliamentary constituencies likely to cross local authority boundaries

    "there are now some spectacular complications ... that issue of consistency is crucial because ... some very small administrative issues could result in a differentiation within particular wards that will create constituencies".[77]

77. The Minister told us "I think it is fair to say the Electoral Commission are quite keen for a bigger role. At the moment, that is unproven".[78] We believe that the Electoral Commission must play a key role in ensuring that IER is implemented consistently, and that may require effective powers of sanction to do so. We conclude that there is a strong case for the Electoral Commission to be given powers to intervene where EROs consistently fail to meet agreed performance standards.

78. The Government has committed to funding the transition to IER which is likely, in the short term, to be resource-intensive as EROs aim to contact and register an estimated 46 million individuals, as opposed to 25 million households. The Association of Electoral Administrators has written that "the successful implementation of the new system will depend on the relevant funding going directly to electoral services. Any funding needs to continue post 2015 and should not simply be seen as one-off capital funding".[79] Michel Saminaden of SOLACE has also suggested the need for "some sort of ring-fencing" to ensure that money made available to local authorities for IER is not diverted elsewhere. We recommend that the Government ensure that the funding it provides to support local authorities with the transition to IER is ring-fenced for this purpose.

Data matching

79. The concept behind the 20 data matching pilots currently under way is "to test whether EROs can use public databases to identify people eligible to vote but missing from the register so they can invite them to register".[80] The Government hopes to assess early in 2012 whether these schemes should be rolled out more widely.

80. Representatives of three of the local authorities involved in the data matching pilots told us that "for all of us ... it is very, very labour intensive".[81] All three authorities had hired additional staff to help run data matching, boosting staffing levels in their electoral registration sections by 50-100% for the duration of the pilot. If it is to be successful, additional resource will be needed not only to match data, but also to follow it up with letters, and house enquiries if appropriate.

81. Julian Bassham, Electoral Services Manager for the London Borough of Southwark told us that data matching "has been more successful for us at this stage in telling us what we do know rather than what we don't know ... At the moment it does not look, from our side, like the DWP data will necessarily answer those questions".[82] The Electoral Commission has stated that it wishes to see further options for identifying unregistered electors "not only in the event that data matching is less successful than we hope, but also to deal with 'at risk' groups who are less easily picked up through the data matching approach".[83]

82. The problems are partly technical. Addresses may not match between records because they have been input differently, or because house names have changed.[84] In Southwark, 25% of Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) records could not be matched to properties in the borough as known to the local authority.[85] Without nationality information, it is impossible to know if someone is likely to be eligible to vote or not. We also heard that people are not removed from the DWP database when they die or leave the country, meaning that large numbers of records on the database are essentially inaccurate and confusing to electoral administrators.[86]

83. The Minister told us that Government and the Electoral Commission would have to look at the data generated by all 22 data matching pilots before making a decision on the effectiveness of data matching. He stated

    The Electoral Commission, according to the secondary legislation, has to have those evaluations ready in March, so what we are going to have to be taking a decision on before we introduce the legislation is whether we think there is sufficient evidence available to put the powers into the legislation to roll out data-matching, if we wanted to.[87]

The evidence we have received, however, suggests that data matching will be of limited effectiveness, especially in identifying potential electors. We recommend that the Electoral Commission publish its evaluations of the pilots before second reading of the Bill, in order to inform debate.

84. Access to the data in the first place has not always been straightforward. Local authorities participating in the pilots have not had the power to require access to data. Darren Whitney of Stratford-on-Avon District Council told us that part of their pilot had been delayed as they had not received any data from the Ministry of Defence, even though the terms of the pilot agreed with the Government involved access to data from their Joint Administration and ANITE databases.[88] The Minister for Personnel in the Ministry of Defence, Rt Hon Andrew Robathan MP, wrote to us on 12 October 2011 stating that data had been provided to Stratford-on-Avon in August.[89] In fact the relevant data was only received by Stratford later in October. Data matching can only be a success if local authorities are provided with the information they need in a timely and helpful way. We regret that the Ministry of Defence has taken so long to co-operate with at least one of the data matching pilots. This suggests that there may be a need for better central co-ordination and ministerial oversight of the data matching programme.

65   Cm 8108, para 6 Back

66   Cm 8108, para 6 Back

67   Q 176 Back

68   Q 176 Back

69   Ev 104 Back

70   Electoral Commission, Report on performance standards for Electoral Registration Officers in Great Britain,

Third analysis of performance, April 2011, p 14, para 2.12 Back

71   Q 176 Back

72   Q 86 Back

73   Q 86 Back

74   Q 166 Back

75   Ev 92 Back

76   Ev 95  Back

77   Q 190 Back

78   Q 284 Back

79   Ev 94 Back

80   Cm 8108, para 20 Back

81   Q 62 Back

82   Q 66 Back

83   Ev 103 Back

84   Q 75 Back

85   Q 74 Back

86   Qq 70-71 Back

87   Q 245 Back

88   Q 72 Back

89   Ev w38 Back

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© Parliamentary copyright 2011
Prepared 4 November 2011