New registration system sees more accurate registers; but further action still needed to encourage electoral registration

Facts on registering to vote

The overall accuracy of electoral registers in Great Britain has increased following the completion of the move to Individual Electoral Registration (IER) in December 2015, a new report from the Electoral Commission has found.

Main findings

The Commission reports that the local government registers on 1 December 2015 were 91% accurate and 84% complete. This represents an increase in accuracy of 4 percentage points and a likely decline of just under 1 percentage point in completeness since the last registers were published under the household system of registration in February and March 2014.

This suggests that, on 1 December 2015, between 7.6 and 8.3 million eligible people were not correctly registered to vote at their current address across Great Britain.

Quality indicatorRegisterPre-transition: Feb/Mar 2014Post transition: December 2015
AccuracyParliamentary86%91%
 Local government87%91%
CompletenessParliamentary86%85%
 Local government85%84%

The Commission’s report highlights that there are some specific problems that require action following the transition to IER. For example, there has been a decline of approximately 9 percentage points in the registration levels of 18-19 year olds. There has also been a decline in completeness among groups associated with young people and groups that previous Commission research indicated were also less likely to be registered, including an approximate 6 percentage points decline in registration levels among private renters.

These estimates of accuracy and completeness are for the registers in December 2015; a ‘snapshot’ in the lifecycle of the registers. Historically, the December registers, published at the end of the canvass were at their most accurate and complete. However, evidence indicates that, under IER, people are increasingly likely to register to vote in the run-up to an electoral event compared to other points during the year, meaning that the registers were likely to be more complete in May 2015 and June 2016.

Ahead of the polls in 2015 and earlier this year, there was a huge amount of work undertaken by the Commission and Electoral Registration Officers to encourage people to register.

Between 1 December and the EU Referendum, there were millions of applications to register made, many of which were from younger people. Although some will have been duplicate applications, the Commission was able to report that there was a 5% increase in the number of people registered before the EU Referendum compared to 1 December 2015.

Jenny Watson, Chair of the Electoral Commission, said:

The Commission has called for Individual Electoral Registration since 2003, and the registers are now more accurate and secure as a result of the new system.

But there are still too many voters not correctly registered, particularly young people, and more needs to be done to correct this. Good use of existing data will be the key to this, and we have set out specific action which government can take to improve the system. This includes the automatic registration of 16 and 17 year olds when they receive their National Insurance numbers.

The future of electoral registration

The Commission has called on the UK Government to introduce a facility for voters to check whether they are already registered, increasing voters’ understanding of the system and reducing the administrative burden on Electoral Registration Officers in processing duplicate applications.

The Commission’s report also recommends a move towards a more automatic system of registration, using data from other Government sources to update the registers. The Commission has welcomed the Government’s commitment to conduct pilots in streamlining the annual canvass process, however it recommends that the Government should also look at how further initiatives for modernisation can be delivered. This could include seeing how young voters can be automatically registered on allocation of their National Insurance cards and ensuring that those moving home within the same local authority area are automatically updated on their local register.

The 1 December 2015 registers are being used by the Boundary Commissions for the review of parliamentary boundaries. The Electoral Commission’s report recommends that the UK and Scottish Parliaments consider whether, if the electoral registers continue to be used for this in the future, it would be more appropriate to base boundary reviews on the registers used for elections, given that the registers tend to be most complete immediately in advance of polls.

The report is available on the Commission's website.

Ends

Electoral Commission spokespeople are available for interview.

For further information or to arrange an interview, contact Lisa Camps in the Electoral Commission press office:

Extra notes

Notes to editors

  • 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 regulation of referendums held under the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act (2000).
  • The Commission’s assessment of the quality of the registers at the start of the transition to IER can be found on the website.
  • Details of the electorate at the EU Referendum are available on the Commission’s website.