By law, all those registering to vote must now be given a chance to opt-out of going on a version of the roll made available to marketers. But are the forms clarifying the implications of not opting out?
Topic: Direct marketing
Who: The Electoral Commission, Lambeth Council and Others
When: October 2002
November 2001's Court judgment in retired accountant Brian Robertson's case over the use of the Electoral Roll for marketing purposes has finally come home to roost. The Robertson case led to a change in the law which came into effect in July 2002 and is reported elsewhere on marketinglaw. As a result of this, local authorities are obliged to include in voters' registration forms (which recipients are required by law to fill in and return so as to ensure that the relevant names are on the Electoral Roll) provide an opportunity to "opt out" of the names provided by way of the registration form being made available to direct marketing organisations.
The Electoral Commission has provided a proposed form of wording for this opt-out, but local authorities have complete freedom to decide whether to use either this, or their own preferred wording. With local authorities like Lambeth Council opting for a statement that the version of the Electoral Roll which excludes those who have opted out may be used for "commercial activities such as marketing and mail shots (junk mail)", the Direct Marketing Association is expressing concern that this type of "explanatory statement" could in fact mislead voters.
What Lambeth Council are not telling the individual, for example, is that if they opt out this could increase the risk of fraudulent use of their identity. This is because the Electoral Roll has always been used to check names and addresses because it is the only national file available against which companies can confirm the accuracy of their marketing lists. In future they will only be able to check addresses of people who have not opted out. So for example if an individual moves house and does not opt out on the electoral registration form, his change of address will come to the notice of marketers, who will ideally stop sending mailings to the old address. This reduces the risk of fraud occurring as a result of mailings being sent to the old, incorrect address.
Why this matters:
It is perhaps too much to expect that local authorities will provide lengthy disclosures as to the full ins and outs of opting in or opting out, bearing in mind that the greater the length of the disclosure, the lower the chance of any individual bothering to read it. However, it will be an interesting exercise, if it is ever done, to compare the voter registration form opt-out explanations given by particular local authorities across the UK with their political affiliations. At the end of the day, however, Trading Standards Review Magazine is right to point out that the best way of minimising the risk of receiving junk mail is to register with one of the preference services that exist for mail, fax, telephone and email marketing. This has to come with a health warning, however, that only two of these preference services, those relating to fax and telephone marketing, are statutory.