A Freedom of Information request has revealed that Hull and East Riding councils sold data to credit reference agencies, insurance companies and private individuals from the electoral register.
The law states that any person or organisation can purchase data from a extract of the electoral register – known as the “open register” – while some companies can access more in-depth information from the “full register”.
In the past six years, Hull City Council made a total of £16,689 and East Riding Council collected £16,153.62 from selling the names and addresses of registered voters within their authority areas.
However critics of this system warn that unscrupulous firms could be abusing the system for marketing and publicity purposes.
Big Brother Watch director Silkie Carlo said: “No public authority should sell residents’ personal information to private entities for profit. This sale of data leaves us open to targeted advertising and undermines trust in councils.
“The open register should be opt in rather than opt out – that way, we could truly see how many people want their data sold for marketing purposes.”
Who has bought the data?
Credit reference agencies (CRAs) such as Experian, Crediva, Equifax and CallCredit appear most frequently on the list of companies buying data from councils in East Yorkshire.
Figures for specific transactions were not provided by East Riding Council, but in the past six years, CallCredit spent £2,839.50 on electoral data from Hull City Council.
In a statement, CallCredit (now TransUnion) explained that it held personal data for a number of reasons, including for identification purposes.
A spokesperson said: “CRAs hold personal data that can be used to identify people, like their name, date of birth, and current and previous addresses.
“The electoral register is one source of data that helps us in
generating and checking this information. We aggregate electoral register data from all the councils across the country.
“Our clients (such as banks and building societies) can then use the data to help fight identity fraud and confirm a person is who they say they are.”
In the East Riding, Bridlington Children’s Centre and the charity Get Kids Going were listed, while K&G lettings bought data in Hull.
The list also reveals an interesting insight into a relatively unreported area of spending from Hull’s local political parties.
Since 2012, a combined total of more than £1,400 was spent on residents’ data in the city by Labour (£409), the Conservatives (£473), the Liberal Democrats (£346) and UKIP (£200).
The amount collected through selling residents’ data in full
Hull City Council
2012/13 – £3,121.00
2013/14 – £2,341.50
2014/15 – £2,778.00
2015/16 – £3,044.50
2016/17 – £2,950.50
2017/18 – £2,453.50
Total – £16,689.00
East Riding Council
2012/13 – £3,301.00
2013/14 – £1,815.00
2014/15 – £2,735.50
2015/16 – £2,335,02
2016/17 – £2,038.67
2017/18 – £3,928.43
Total – £16,153.62
What the councils say
In a statement, Hull City Council said: “An elector’s name and address will be included in the open register unless they ask for them to be removed. Removing your details from the open register does not affect your right to vote.
“In Hull, 187,500 people are currently registered to vote, of which, 51 per cent have opted out of the open register.
“As set out in regulation 110 of the Representation of the People (England and Wales) Regulations 2001, the edited register must be made available to anyone wishing to purchase it, and as part of regulation 111 of the same act, the full register may be purchased by registered credit reference agencies.”
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for East Riding Council said: “During the annual canvass undertaken by the council, residents are given the option to opt out of the open register. Residents can also opt out at any time by contacting the council online, by email or by phone.
“Residents should also be aware that some organisations, such as Experian, have a right, set out in national legislation, to information held on the full version of the electoral register regardless of whether a resident opts out or not.
“The full version of the register is only used for elections, preventing and detecting crime, checking applications for loans and credit and jury summoning.
“It is important for residents to register because if you don’t register you can’t vote. Not being on the register could also affect your ability to obtain credit as lenders will use the register to confirm your identity when you apply for credit.”