Centrally-held government records could help improve the accuracy of electoral registers across the UK, a report on Northern Ireland’s experience said.
Using details from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), which oversees benefits and elderly support, would help maintain the completeness of the roll without having to repeatedly contact electors, according to the Electoral Commission which organises the polls.
Data matching was used in Northern Ireland during a canvass for the register last year.
A commission report said the results indicated that matching electoral registration information against DWP data and local records could help maintain levels of accuracy and completeness of registers.
“Learning from the experience of the chief electoral officer in Northern Ireland, particular consideration will need to be given to how EROs (electoral registration offices in local authority areas) in England, Scotland and Wales can access centrally available data such as that held by DWP on an on-going basis, in addition to the publicly held data at a local level that they are already able to access.
“Availability and access to such data will require input from Government, the commission and the information commissioner as well as other appropriate bodies but could play an important role in the future management of the registration process.”
The new register published by December in England and Wales will include all electors matched against DWP data plus those who registered individually.
The commission said data matching was not expected to be repeated in future years. The annual canvass of properties in autumn next year will involve sending forms to all properties to collect information about who is resident.
The polling organisation in Northern Ireland has conducted research suggesting a “worrying” decline in the completeness of registers because the systems were unable to keep pace with people moving homes or become eligible to join the register.
In response data matching initiatives were introduced but these did not fully compensate for a canvass of all households, the report said.
The commission found that last year’s canvass resulted in higher levels of registration in Northern Ireland than was the case beforehand, but that there is still more work to do.
In Northern Ireland measures to retain names on the register will expire after the UK Westminster election next year.
After this a person who was retained on the register through data matching will be removed if they have not completed and returned a new registration form.
The report added: “Given that the Northern Ireland Assembly election has been moved from 2015 to 2016 the chief electoral officer has recommended that the UK Government should amend the regulations allowing for this retention to be extended to 2016 to ensure that all eligible electors can take part in these elections.
“We would support this request.”
Polls for the European Parliament and local councils will be held next month.