Decision : Closed after initial enquiries
Decision date : 12 Jan 2021
The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: We will not investigate this complaint that the Council is harassing the complainant by asking her to provide information for the electoral register. This is because there is insufficient evidence of fault by the Council and because the complainant could complain to the Information Commissioner.
- The complainant, whom I refer to as Mrs X, complains the Council has threatened and harassed her in relation to information it wants her to provide for the electoral register. Mrs X says the Council’s request puts the safety of her personal information at risk. She wants the Council to stop contacting her.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- We investigate complaints about ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. In this statement, I have used the word ‘fault’ to refer to these. We must also consider whether any fault has had an adverse impact on the person making the complaint. I refer to this as ‘injustice’. We provide a free service, but must use public money carefully. We may decide not to start an investigation if we believe:
- it is unlikely we would find fault, or
- there is another body better placed to consider this complaint.
(Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6), as amended)
- We normally expect someone to refer the matter to the Information Commissioner (ICO) if they have a complaint about data protection. However, we may decide to investigate if we think there are good reasons. (Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6), as amended)
How I considered this complaint
- I read the complaint and the correspondence between Mrs X and the Council. I considered comments Mrs X made in reply to a draft of this decision.
What I found
- The law says the Council (specifically the Electoral Registration Officer) must keep an up to date register of eligible voters. To do this, the Council is required to issue an annual canvass seeking information from every household. It is a legal requirement to provide the information and people who do not provide it can be fined up to £1000.
- The Council sent Mrs X the annual canvass form. In response Mrs X said that providing the information would put her at risk of identity theft. She said she had no intention of voting and she would view any further contact from the Council as harassment.
- In response the Council explained it has a legal duty to maintain a register of eligible voters and it asks for information each year, as part of that legal duty, to ensure the register is up to date. It explained that people are not required to vote but there is a legal requirement to provide the information requested by the Council. It said Mrs X could opt out of the open register which would mean her details would not be passed to third parties. It said it would continue to send reminders if she did not reply and she could be fined. The Council said the wording it uses on its letters is approved by the Electoral Commission.
- I will not start an investigation because there is insufficient evidence of fault by the Council. The Council, by sending the form and reminders to Mrs X, is fulfilling its legal duty. Mrs X may object but that does not mean the Council has done anything wrong.
- I also will not start an investigation because Mrs X could complain to the ICO if she thinks the Council’s actions are putting her at risk of identity theft. It is reasonable to expect her to contact the ICO because this is the appropriate body to consider how councils, and other organisations, handle data and personal information. Mrs X says she will contact the ICO.
- I will not start an investigation because there is insufficient evidence of fault by the Council and because Mrs X could complain to the ICO.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman