Electoral registration: the group that gets overlooked

People who live in private rented accommodation rarely catch the attention of politicians or political journalists. It’s odd, because so many people working for MPs or media outlets, particularly in London, spend a good number of years in shared private rented accommodation and normally the problem is that politicians place too much attention on people they are immediately familiar with rather than too little.

The neglect of the private renter is seen most often when the housing market is discussed, where it is frequently not only taken as a given that home ownership is what it is all about but also very little attention is given to making the private rented sector work better. You can fight through a bulging email folder of press releases from politicians wanting to make mortgages easier, cheaper, safer and more numerous before you find one that talks about tackling any of the issues renters face.

This week has seen the neglect in another form, with the Electoral Commission’s report into electoral registration. The headline picture is fairly straightforward. The evidence, “indicate[s] a decline in the  quality of the registers in the early 2000s with a subsequent stabilisation, but not recovery, from 2006”. Registration rates also vary greatly by age: “The lowest percentage of completeness is recorded for the 17–18 and 19–24 age groups (55% and 56% complete respectively). In contrast, 94% of the 65+ age group were registered”.

However, differences in registration based on class or ethnicity – often talked about – are not only relatively small (little difference based on class, less than 10 percentage points difference based on ethnicity) but they are dwarfed by the property dimension:

Completeness ranged from 89% among those who own their property outright and 87% among those with a mortgage, to 56% among those who rent from a private landlord. In relation to accuracy, the rate of ineligible entries at privately rented properties was four times that found at owner occupied addresses.

For the slump in electoral registration which went alongside the slump in turnout at the turn of the century to have since stabilised as turnout has recovered somewhat is an okay, rather than good, trend. To make it a good trend requires that private renting problem to be fixed.

It is one of the reasons why – done right – I think individual electoral registration is a good thing, as it will then be clearer to people in shared private rented accommodation what needs doing to get on the register and remove the situation I’ve often encountered out on the doorsteps of just one name registered at such addresses – an absent landlord.

Yet its also one of the major issues with electoral registration that gets talked about the least. Let’s hope the latest evidence helps to change that.

Great Britain’s Electoral Registers 2011

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This entry was posted in Election law.


  • frankly, I never understood why private renters would be less registered. you receive a registration form every year (aside from the fact you can voluntarily register anytime).
    you need to be on the register to get a mobile phone contract or a credit card, let alone a loan, not just a mortgage: a pretty high incentive even if you don’t care about voting.
    I was a private renter for 13 years here and apart from the first 6 months or so (which were in between 2 reg cycles and before you had rolling registration), I’ve always been registered to vote, even though I can only vote in local elections!
    I know people that aren’t registered, they aren’t by CHOICE (to avoid Jury duty or simply because they don’t care about voting).

    I think someone who can’t be bothered registering is very unlikely to bother voting anyway.

  • I’m not disputing the study conclusion there’s lower registration in privately rented accommodation.

    I’m saying there’s no practical reason for the difference to be so great, of it’s own.
    the fact privately rented move more often will account for some of course (it’s clear that the fact very little of the people having lived less than a year at one address are registered, so that will affect disproportional private renters).
    Individual registration might help a bit with that, though I’d be curious to know why 44% of non-registered think they are registered, since they’d be no more likely to individually register than use rolling registration now.

    But the rest of the difference, which I would guess is mostly due to the age and nationality of people in privately rented accommodation being skewed towards the group that don’t register, is a consequence of young people and non-uk choosing not to register, rather than anything to do with private renting of itself.
    And individual registration will not help with that.

  • I have knocked on several doors in the past only to be told the person on the electoral roll is the landlord and they the tenants are not registered.

  • Lloyd: one possible reason for this kind of scenario is if the landlord is letting the place but hasn’t told his/her mortgage company. They then ask the tenants not to register – and, as they want a roof over their heads, they comply. All this from anecdotal evidence but it’s a possible partial explanation.

  • Richard Whight 2nd Aug '12 - 6:23pm

    I’ve looked at The Representation of the People Act and as far as I can tell, as long as you try and register more than two months before the annual canvas then they will amend your records as part of a monthly cycles called the rolling register. This year I’m being told that the form I submitted in July won’t be registered until later as Police and Crime Commissioner elections are in the way. As far as I’m concerned the Act hasn’t changed but I still can’t get on the register even when (I believe) they have budget allocated for each separate process (annual canvas and rolling register).

    I find this very frustrating as I’ve spent some years repairing my credit rating and this was a major issue (not being on the register for a full 3 years). I can only imagine that those worse off than me will suffer terribly from Pay Day Loan companies (or legalised loan sharks as I like to think of them)when they are unable to obtain a cheap overdraft from their bank due to poor credit ratings and also due to banks being banks!

  • From my personal experience, what I have encountered as a lodger is that the live-in landlords do not want lodgers to register in the electoral roll as this apparently reduces the value of the properties.

    It seems that prospective buyers do not like seeing records of many people (different lodgers) living in the same property in different years.

    I have been ‘forbidden’ to register in order to be allowed to stay at the accommodation I was paying to live in and I am aware this is a common occurrence.

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