The independent elections watchdog
and regulator of party and election finance

Section menu

New report shows at least 6m people not registered to vote

At least six million people in Great Britain were not registered to vote in December 2010, according to a new report from the Electoral Commission, the independent elections watchdog.

New research confirms that the number of people not registered has grown since the last estimate ten years ago. It suggests that at least 6m people may not have been registered after the yearly household canvass in autumn 2010, compared to an estimate of 3.9m after the 2000 canvass, with 8.5m people found to be unregistered by April 2011.

Jenny Watson, Chair of the Electoral Commission, said: “This should be of concern for everyone who cares about democracy. There are many reasons behind the decline in registration – including changes to our population and increasing disengagement with traditional party politics.  But we know almost half of those not registered mistakenly think they are, and more needs to be done to address this.

“Electoral Registration Officers (EROs) need to keep finding better ways of identifying people we know are less likely to be registered, and they will need adequate funding from local authorities to do that properly. The Commission gives guidance to EROs to help them do this more effectively, but it should be remembered that our guidance is just that - and we do not have powers to intervene.  We will also keep targeting under-registered groups, through our own public awareness campaigns.”

The Commission’s report highlights the challenges we face as Great Britain moves from household registration to individual electoral registration (IER) in 2014.  Commenting on IER, Jenny Watson said:

“The introduction of individual electoral registration is right in principle and it is essential that it works in practice.  We have a once in a generation opportunity to overhaul our electoral registers and to make sure everyone who should be is included.

“The Commission has recommended a number of important and practical steps that the Government needs to take to ensure this change goes smoothly.  It will be particularly important to have an annual canvass in early 2014 to make sure that the transition from household to individual electoral registration takes place from the best possible base.” 

Key findings from the report include:

  • The April 2011 parliamentary registers were 82.3% complete, meaning that 17.7% of the eligible electorate were not registered at this time.
  • The December 2010 registers were estimated to be 85-87% complete, meaning that an estimated 13-15% of those eligible were not registered after the 2010 annual canvass. The last estimate for the completeness of the registers found that 8-9% were not registered in December 2000;
  • Only 14% of people who moved house after the 2010 annual canvass had registered at their new address by April 2011;
  • 56% of 19-24 year olds are registered, compared with 94% of those aged 65+;
  • 77% of people from BME communities are registered (compared with 86% of white people);
  • 56% of European Union citizens and 68% of Irish / Commonwealth citizens are registered on the local government registers, compared with 84% of UK citizens; 
  • 56% of people living in private rented homes are registered, compared with 88% for homeowners;
  • 44% of those not registered to vote mistakenly believe that they are.

The report, Great Britain’s electoral registers 2011, which was funded by the Cabinet Office, is available here: www.electoralcommission.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0007/145366/Great-Britains-electoral-registers-2011.pdf


For more information and to arrange an interview with Jenny Watson, please contact the Electoral Commission press office on 020 7271 0704 (out of office hours: 07789 920 414).

Notes to editors

1. The Electoral Commission is an independent body set up by the UK Parliament. Our aim is integrity and public confidence in the UK’s democratic process. We regulate party and election finance, set standards for well-run elections and are responsible for the conduct and regulations of referendums held under the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act (2000).

2. The numbers for those missing from the registers (at least 6 million in December 2010 and 8.5 million in April 2011) do not imply that the overall size of the registers should be larger by this amount. This is because many of these people (particularly among the 8.5 million) may still have been represented on the registers by an inaccurate entry (for example, at a previous address).

3. The majority of inaccuracies found on the registers related to the names of people who a current household member confirmed is not resident at that address (in many cases this will likely be because of home movement and the entries for the previous occupants not being deleted). However, the research is by its nature limited in its ability to uncover any concerted efforts to defraud the system - as it relies on gathering information from current residents.
4. The research builds on the previous case study research published by the Electoral Commission in March 2010, which provided estimates of the accuracy and completeness of a small sample of local authority registers (see: www.electoralcommission.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0018/87111/The-completeness-and-accuracy-of-electoral-registers-in-Great-Britain.pdf ).   

5. The research methodology for this study involved drawing a nationally representative sample of addresses across 50 local authorities, followed by house-to-house surveying by trained interviewers with the aim of gathering information from residents which could be checked against the details held on the electoral registers. Ipsos MORI were commissioned to undertake the work.

6. The study aimed to produce nationally representative findings and does not provide estimates for individual local authorities or constituencies.

7. The findings of this report are based on the registers in place around election time (ie in spring 2011). Figures for the April registers cannot be directly compared with other recent national estimates, which have used the registers published immediately after the annual canvass. The research shows that the accuracy and completeness of the registers deteriorates significantly between the household canvass each autumn and when registers are used for elections in the spring. The survey undertaken by Ipsos MORI was designed to estimate the accuracy and completeness of the April 2011 registers rather than the December registers.

8. Comparisons with previous estimates should also be treated with some caution due to the different methodologies used.  The last estimate of completeness was derived from checking the details on the registers against the information gathered by the 2001 census and applied to England and Wales only.