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60 seconds on the electoral roll

Helen S

Updated August 2016

Being on the Electoral Roll is vital if you want to vote and can help to boost your credit rating.

If you're not already on (and you could easily be surprised), it's straightforward to do - and don't worry about being sent junk mail once signed up, there's a simple way to opt out.

What is the Electoral Roll? It’s a list of all the names and addresses of those registered to vote in public elections - such as local, mayoral and national – as well as for a referendum.

The chief aim is to ensure that only those eligible to cast a ballot paper get to do so. However, it is also used to fight crime - especially fraud - call up individuals for jury service and check credit applications (more on this below).

Am I not already on it? I thought everybody was already registered to vote these days. It's a myth that all households are automatically registered to be able to cast their ballots in elections - signing up for council tax, for example, doesn't mean you're signed up.

It's entirely up to you to make sure you're signed up to the Electoral Roll (or Register as it's often called).

Each local authority is in charge of the electoral register for its own area. To see if you're already registered to vote, call your local electoral registration office.

You can get its contact details by going to aboutmyvote.co.uk and entering your postcode.

How do I register? Registering is easy. Go to the Government's website if you live in England, Scotland or Wales. It takes about five minutes or so, and you'll be asked for your date of birth, your National Insurance number and possibly your Passport number too. The Electoral Roll is updated by councils each month.

If you’re in Northern Ireland, go to aboutmyvote.co.uk (a site run by the Electoral Commission) and download a registration from its Vote in Northern Ireland page.

Do you want to vote by post? If you prefer to make your vote by post, you must first be on the Electoral Roll and tell your local authority you want to vote this way at least 11 days before an election day.

Then - depending on the council - it will either direct you to a link where you can download the appropriate postal form to fill in and send off. Or they will separately send you a postal voting slip to send back.

Is it the same for voting by proxy? There are slightly different deadlines, usually you'll need to apply at least 6 days before an election or referendum. Or you can apply for an indefinite proxy vote at any time in the year, but you must be able to provide a valid reason why you'll need to vote in this way.

If you want to vote by proxy - getting someone else you trust to vote on your behalf - the person acting on your behalf must themselves be registered on the Electoral Roll.

Is there just one Electoral Roll? No. There are actually two versions of the Electoral Roll you sign up to...

- The full electoral register, which is used when you vote

- The so-called open (or edited) register, which is available for companies to buy

The open register is simply a public version of the electoral register. Anyone can buy it - even you could, if you wanted - but it's mostly used by companies.

This is because, for a fee, firms are able to buy all the details on the open register - critically, the names and addresses - and use them for marketing purposes. For example, this allows them to send fliers, promotional offers or tailored deals to your home address.

So will I be bombarded by spam if I sign up to the Electoral Roll? No, not if you don't want to. While you have to be on the electoral register in order to vote, and have a healthy credit score, there's no requirement for you to be on the open register. When signing up, simply make clear you only want to be listed on the full electoral register, and your details won't be shared with firms' marketing departments.

Will it affect my credit score if I choose to opt out of the open register? No, because lenders use the full electoral register to check your personal details when you apply for credit - so you need to be on that. This is part of the credit check they do when seeking to score you, and that you give them permission to do when you agree to their terms and conditions.

Certain lenders may use the open register for further searches of your file. For example, they may do it if they wanted to offer you a credit limit increase. But don't assume because you've opted out, you can't get more credit. If you contact your lender asking for a credit increase, you can give it further permission to credit check you again, and this will mean it'll check the full register. You don't need to be on the open register to get credit.

Are there any downsides for me if I opt out of the open register? Well, sometimes lenders will use the edited register for ID purposes. For example, if they were chasing debts left by someone who used to live in your house - if you're listed on the edited register at that address they'd know not to send letters chasing the debt to your address. Or if you're looking to rent a property, a landlord may use it to check your identity.

But, as we said, one of the main purposes of the open register is for marketing. Read more about how the open (or edited) register is used.

Apparently I am already on the open register, is it too late to opt out? No, you can opt out at any time by contacting your local electoral registration officer. Call your local council and they'll be able to request your name be taken off. The process should normally take a matter of days. Remember, you can opt out at any time - and around half of the voting population already have.