Editorial: Another worry for direct mail

The edited electoral roll might not survive, says Stephen Cook

Before 2002 the full electoral roll was available to anyone who wanted to buy it, including direct marketing companies.

But this was deemed incompatible with the Human Rights Act and the Data Protection Act, and the Government decided that commercial organisations should be allowed to buy only an edited version of the roll.

Since then, 40 per cent of citizens have exercised their right not to be on that edited version.

A Government-commissioned review of data-sharing practices recommended the abolition of the edited version last year, principally on the grounds that data should be used only for the purpose for which it has been collected.

Several members of the Lords have taken up the call in debates on the Political Parties and Elections Bill, but have agreed to wait for the results of a Government consultation before pushing the matter further.

The Direct Marketing Association and the Institute of Fundraising have been lobbying to head off the abolition proposal. They have succeeded in persuading ministers that it would make life difficult for charities. This is true in the sense that fundraising organisations use the edited roll both to acquire new names and to check the accuracy of information on other databases.

This is a case of principle against expediency. The principle is that we declare our personal details to the electoral registration authorities so we can vote, not so that charities and marketing companies can send us solicitations.

The expediency of the case is that the fundraising potential of charities - and, by extension, the good they do - depends to some extent on the continued availability of the edited roll.

Which way will it go? The mood of the times is for tighter control of personal data, so the odds must be on abolition. If that happens, charities will no doubt find other and perhaps more widely accepted ways to gather the marketing information they need.

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