Decision : Upheld
Decision date : 06 Oct 2015
The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: The Ombudsman will not investigate this complaint about the electoral register. This is because the Council has already provided a fair and proportionate response and there is not enough remaining injustice to require an investigation.
- The complainants, whom I refer to as Mr & Mrs X, complain that the Council included them on the open electoral register when they had stated on the registration form that they wanted to opt out.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- The Ombudsman investigates complaints about ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. In this statement, I have used the word fault to refer to these. She must also consider whether any fault has had an adverse impact on the person making the complaint. I refer to this as ‘injustice’. She provides a free service, but must use public money carefully. She may decide not to start an investigation if she believes:
- the Council has already provided a fair and proportionate response,
- the injustice is not significant enough to justify her involvement.
(Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6))
How I considered this complaint
- I read the complaint and the Council’s replies. I considered comments the complainants made in response to a draft of this decision.
What I found
- There are two versions of the electoral register. The full version is available to political parties, certain government agencies and credit reference agencies. People cannot opt out of the full register. The edited register (or open register) can be bought by commercial companies to draw up mailing lists. It includes names and addresses but not phone numbers or email addresses. People can choose not to be included in the edited register.
- To register to vote people must first complete an enquiry form and then register to vote.
- In October 2014 the Council sent the complainants an enquiry form for the purpose of creating the electoral register. The Council has no record of receiving a completed form back until February. The complainants stated on the form that they did not want to be listed on the open register. At this stage the complainants were still unregistered so the Council could not process their wish to opt out.
- In the run-up to the general election Mr & Mrs X found out that they were not registered to vote. The Council accepted it had made a mistake in not registering them and it accepted a late application. However, while it registered them so they could vote in the election, it overlooked their request to be excluded from the open register.
- Mr & Mrs X subsequently found out they were on the open register and complained. Mrs X said she has medical problems and did not want to be contacted. In response, the Council explained what had happened and agreed it had overlooked their request to opt of the open register. The Council apologised for the distress and inconvenience and said it would remove them from the open register.
- I will not start an investigation because the Council has already provided a fair response. It has explained what went wrong, apologised and removed Mr & Mrs X from the open register. Once this remedy has been taken into account there is not enough remaining injustice to require an investigation by the Ombudsman.
- I will not start an investigation because the Council has provided a fair response and there is not enough outstanding injustice to warrant an investigation.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman