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Levels of electoral registration have stabilised since 2011, new research shows

Published: 22 Jul 2014

New research produced by the Electoral Commission, the independent elections watchdog, has found that 15% of people who are eligible to register to vote in Great Britain are not correctly registered and 14% of register entries are inaccurate.

A separate study also published today using census data found similar levels of registration in 2011, following a significant decline in the preceding decade.

This is the last time the registers will be assessed under the old household registration system.   A new system of individual electoral registration has been introduced in England and Wales already, and will be introduced in Scotland after the referendum in September. Under the new system people can register to vote online for the first time, which will make the process easier and quicker, and additional checks will improve the accuracy of electoral registers.

Main findings

The studies have found that Great Britain’s Parliamentary electoral registers are 85.9% complete, and that local government electoral registers are 84.7% complete. Previous research by the Commission found estimated that the registers in England and Wales in 2000 were between 91% and 92% complete. Therefore, following a decline in registration between 2001 and 2011, levels of registration have stabilised since 2011.

Based on this research, the Commission has estimated that around 7.5 million individuals are not correctly registered at their current address in Great Britain.
In our previous research on the December 2010 electoral registers we said that between 13-15% were not correctly registered, which we estimated to be at least 6 million people.  The new data we now have from the census has allowed us to make a more accurate estimate of registration levels in 2011.  This shows that registration levels were at the lower end of the range we identified previously and that 15% of people – or approximately 7.5 million - were not correctly registered in December 2010.

The table below outlines the results of the different assessments:

Electoral registers used Completeness Numbers not correctly registered
February/ March 2014 84.7% Approximately 7.5 million
December 2010 (Census) 84.9% Approximately 7.5 million
December 2010 (House to House) 85-87% At least 6 million based on the higher completeness estimate of 87% (7.5 million based on lower completeness estimate of 85%

The research also found that the electoral registers were 86% accurate in 2014.   Taking into account the margins of error we do not think this is significantly different to our estimate of accuracy in 2011.  The main reason for inaccurate entries on the register was people no longer being resident at the property.

Who is most likely not to be registered?

The pattern of registration for different groups is largely in line with previous research findings and confirms that population mobility remains the demographic variable with the strongest impact on completeness.

Key findings from the report “The quality of the 2014 electoral registers in Great Britain”:

  • Length of residence. Completeness increases with length of residence at a property, with the highest level seen for those who have been at their property for more than sixteen years (93.9%) and the lowest one for those who have lived at their property for less than one year (40.1%).
  • Age. The likelihood of a person being registered generally increases with age with the exception of those aged 18-19 (76.1%) who are more likely to appear on the register than those in the age group 20-24 (70.2%). The highest level of completeness is seen for those aged 65+ (95.4%) and the lowest level is recorded for 16-17 year old (51%).
  • Housing tenure. Private renters have the lowest level of completeness (63.3%)
  • Nationality. The research found that 86.5% of UK citizens were registered at their current address against 61.8% of Commonwealth citizens and 53.6% of European Union citizens.
  • Ethnicity. Completeness varies by ethnicity, with those identifying as White or Asian having higher levels of completeness (85.9% and 83.7% respectively) than those claiming Black (76%), Mixed (73.4%) or other (62.9%).
  • Attitudes towards electoral registration and voting also have an impact on the likelihood of an individual appearing on the register. People who see registering (90.8%) and voting (90.2%) as a duty are more likely to be registered than those who think it is not worth registering (73.7%) or voting (76%) (See notes to editors 5)
  • Social Grades. There is little variation in levels of completeness between social grades AB, C1 and C2 (84-87% complete). However, those classified as DE were less likely to be registered (79.6%)

Tackling under-registration

The research illustrates the scale of the challenge in getting people registered to vote who aren’t already. It also reinforces what we know from our previous reports about the groups most likely not to be registered and means that the public engagement plans that Electoral Registration Officers (EROs) have in place across Great Britain are correctly targeted.   The challenge now is to make sure they are delivered during the transition to IER and ahead of important elections in 2015 and 2016.

The Electoral Commission itself has an important role in raising public awareness and we will use these reports to inform our campaign before the UK General Election in 2015.  Many other organisations, such as the National Union of Students (NUS) and Citizens Advice, are already working to tackle under-registration and we plan to expand the help we provide these and other groups over the coming months.

Jenny Watson, Chair of the Electoral Commission, said: “These findings provide an invaluable picture of the state of electoral registers before the change to Individual Electoral Registration.  It’s encouraging that registration numbers have stabilised since 2011, but nobody should underestimate the scale of the challenge in ensuring the registers become more complete.”

“The research confirms our earlier findings about the groups of people least likely to be registered and reinforces the need for Electoral Registration Officers (EROs) target their efforts at recent home movers, young people and certain BME communities. “

“If you’ve moved house recently you’re far more likely not to be registered and this has an impact on the groups affected, particularly younger people who tend to be more mobile.  Online registration should make the system much more accessible and we’re working with EROs and a wide range of other organisations to get people registered ahead of the General Election next year. So if you’ve moved house recently, go to www.gov.uk/register-to-vote and register now – it takes just a few minutes.”

Both of the studies are available on the Electoral Commission's website: The quality of the 2014 electoral registers in Great Britain and Electoral Registration 2011

For more information contact Megan Phillips at the Electoral Commission press office on: 0207 271 0714/out of hours 07789 920 414 mphillips@electoralcommission.org.uk


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 and 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 research presented in “Electoral Registration in 2011” was conducted together with the Office of National Statistics and National Records for Scotland, using the 2011 Census data. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) informs debate and improves decision making through high quality statistics and analyses on the UK's economy and society. It is the UK’s largest independent producer of official statistics and is the recognised national statistical institute for the UK. It is responsible for collecting and publishing statistics at national, regional and local levels. It also conducts the census in England and Wales every ten years.
  3. Previous research reports referenced here are available to view on the Commission website. For the research using data from house to house canvassing in 2010 see The Completeness and Accuracy of Electoral Registers in Great Britain (2010) and for research using the 2001 census data see Understanding electoral registration: The extent and nature of non-registration
    in Britain (2005)
  4. “Completeness” here means that ‘every person who is entitled to have an entry in an electoral register is registered’. “Accuracy” here means that ‘there are no false entries on the electoral registers’.
  5. The figures given for attitudes towards electoral registration are for respondents only and are not weighted for the overall population.
  6. Individual Electoral Registration (IER) is the biggest change to the electoral registration system in almost 100 years. It replaces the current system where one person in each household registers everyone to vote with a requirement to register individually. In addition, for the first time ever, people will be able to register online. The transition began on June 10 2014 in England and Wales. The move to Individual Electoral Registration in Scotland will begin on 19 September 2014, after the Scottish Independence Referendum. For further information about the move to Individual Electoral Registration, see the Electoral Commission’s media briefing on the transition to IER
  7. The Electoral Commission’s public awareness work on the introduction of individual electoral registration is supported by a range of partners. For more information on partnerships see here