Individual electoral registration

Individual electoral registration was introduced in England, Scotland and Wales in 2014.

It replaces the previous electoral arrangements - where one person in each household registered everyone to vote - with the requirement to register individually. People living in England, Scotland and Wales will also be able to register online for the first time.

For many people this change in how we register to vote will mean that they are now responsible for their own registration - including the choice as to whether they wish to be included on the ‘open’ (edited) register. We explain this in more detail below.

General information on individual electoral registration and how to register in England, Scotland and Wales is available on the website.

To register to vote in Northern Ireland, visit the website of the Electoral Office for Northern Ireland to download the registration form to complete, and send it to your area electoral office. This form can also be used to update your details.

The Electoral Commission also provides information on registering to vote.

Electoral registers are managed locally by electoral registration officers who, using information received from the public, keep two registers – the full electoral register and the open (edited) register.

What is the electoral register?

The law makes it compulsory to provide information to an electoral registration officer for inclusion in the full register. The details you are likely to have to provide are your name, address, national insurance number, nationality and age.

The full register is published once a year and is updated every month. It is used by electoral registration officers and returning officers across the country for purposes related to elections and referendums. Political parties, MPs and public libraries also have the full register.

It is also used by local authorities for their duties relating to security, law enforcement and crime prevention, for example checking entitlement to council tax discount or housing benefit. It may also be used by the police for law enforcement purposes. The courts use the register to summon people for jury service.

It can be sold to government departments to help in their duties such as the prevention or detection of crime. They can also use it for vetting job applicants and employees if this is required by law. Credit reference agencies are allowed to buy the full version of the register so that lenders can check the names and addresses of people applying for credit and carry out identity checks to help stop money laundering.

It is a crime for anyone who has a copy of the full register to pass information from this register onto others if they do not have a lawful reason to see it.

What is the open (edited) register?

The open register, also called the edited register, contains the same information as the full register but is not used for elections or referendums. It is updated and published every month and can be sold to any person, organisation or company for a wide range of purposes. It is used by businesses and charities for checking names and address details; users of the register include direct marketing firms and also online directory firms.

You can choose whether or not to have your personal details included in the open version of the register; however they will be included unless you ask for them to be removed. Removing your details from the open register will not affect your right to vote.

Individual electoral registration means that for the first time many people may be making a choice whether or not they wish their personal details to be included in the open register. Some may also be unaware of the choices made on their behalf in the past.

How can I opt out of the open register?

Some people may already be opted out of the open register - if you had opted out at the point of the last household electoral registration your preference will have been noted and carried forward with the introduction of individual electoral registration.

If you are not already opted out but want to prevent your personal details on the electoral register from being made more widely available, you can make a request at any time to your local electoral registration officer for your details to be removed. Your request needs to contain your full name and address and can be in writing, via email or phone. For Northern Ireland contact your area electoral office.

If you are registering (whether online or via a hard copy form) in England, Scotland and Wales you can indicate at the same time that you do not want your name and address listed on the open register. In Northern Ireland registration can only be done via a hard copy form and you can indicate your choice there.

Under the individual electoral registration arrangements your preference as to whether your details are included in the open register will be carried forward – you will not need to make your choice annually when you receive your electoral registration form.

It is important to understand the default position is that your personal details will be included on both the full and open (edited) versions of the register unless you indicate otherwise. This means they will be made available to anyone who wants to buy the edited version. As stated above, this could include commercial organisations carrying out marketing or compiling online directories.

Anyone who believes that having their name and address on the electoral register would put them or anyone who lives with them at risk can apply for anonymous registration. Ask your electoral registration officer or area electoral office for further information.

How can I update my details on the register?

The full and open electoral registers are updated monthly. If you move house, you can re-register with your new address at any time of year, and your new details will be included in the next monthly update of the full register.

How can I opt out or update my details in Northern Ireland?

From 1 December 2006, registration in Northern Ireland became continuous. This means that annual forms are not sent out to households. If you live in Northern Ireland and want to update your details or to notify that you do not want your details to be more widely available, it is up to you to submit the registration form, available from the Electoral Office for Northern Ireland, to your area electoral office.

Why are my old details still available if I opted out?

Prior to November 2001 the register could be sold to anyone prepared to pay a fee. A ruling by the High Court changed the law governing the use of personal information on the electoral register. The court confirmed that it was unlawful to sell copies of the electoral register to private businesses without giving people a choice not to have their information used in this way.

It has come to our attention that some organisations which legitimately bought a copy of the register before the change in the law might still be using people’s details contained in it. It is also possible that if an individual didn’t opt out in each year since 2002, some organisations might also have their details in a version of the open register.

Depending on the circumstances, the use by an organisation of an older version of the register may raise issues in relation to the processing of personal data, giving rise to a risk of a breach of the provisions of the Data Protection Act 1998. Such processing might be unfair and might not accord with the expectations of individuals.

If you have concerns about an instance where an organisation is using your details from an older version of the register, please tell us about it.