Annual canvass reform proposals: consultation paper

This policy statement sets out the revised model for the annual canvass which has been drawn up by the UK, Scottish and Welsh Government, and seeks views from all interested parties.

Joint Ministerial foreword

We are very pleased to publish this joint policy statement setting out detailed proposals for the modernisation of the annual canvass in England, Scotland and Wales and requesting feedback on some important questions.

Electoral Registration Officers from all parts of Great Britain have observed that the current annual canvass of electors is outdated and cumbersome. The one-size-fits-all approach, incorporating numerous prescribed steps, takes little account of differences within and between registration areas. It is heavily paper based, expensive and complex to administer. It is also clear that the current process leads to confusion for the citizen. We are determined to ensure the citizen is at the heart of the process and has a positive interaction with our democratic system. It is therefore important that we modernise and streamline the process of the annual canvass to ensure that it is fit for purpose.

Pilots of four different models for conducting the annual canvass were run in 2016 and 2017 in England, Scotland and Wales. All models had strengths and delivered cost savings when compared to the legislated canvass. One key point to emerge from the pilots was that the majority of households reported no change in their composition. This holds the key for streamlining the process and enabling a more targeted canvass process. Electoral administrators also reported that the piloted models were considerably less resource intensive which allowed them to re-focus their available resources on targeting citizens who were not currently registered, particularly those from under-registered groups with whom it is more difficult to engage. All participating authorities believe the current canvass should be modernised.

Based on the evidence from the pilots, we believe that a hybrid model, taking the successful elements of each and refining certain processes, is the best way forward. The new model will have a data step at the start of the canvass, and then allow a mixture of e-communication (such as email), telephone and paper contacts where most appropriate. The new model will not require every household to respond when we can be confident there has been no change in composition, whilst ensuring safeguards are in place to protect the completeness and accuracy of the electoral registers. Greater discretion for Electoral Registration Officers to shape the canvass to activities which best suit their local circumstances and enabling them to target the properties they believe need to have their electoral register details updated are key aspects of the proposals.

Our intention is to amend legislation governing the annual canvass during 2019, with the desire for the whole of Great Britain to benefit from these changes from the start of the 2020 annual canvass. In order for us to achieve this we will each need to make legislation in our respective legislatures, the UK Parliament, the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly. The three Governments agree that, whilst each Government is of course free to set our own priorities and policies, we should seek to minimise divergence in electoral registration legislation and practice, as far as possible, in order to avoid unnecessary confusion, burdens and costs and to secure the highest standards.

We are committed to working closely together in order to introduce these changes across Great Britain and look forward to our continued work together on this matter. We believe that the changes proposed will be of enormous benefit to the citizen and electoral administrators and will effectively modernise the annual canvass.

Chloe Smith MP - Minister for the Constitution

Chloe Smith MP
Minister for the Constitution

Michael Russell MSP - Cabinet Secretary for Government Business and Constitutional Relations

Michael Russell MSP
Cabinet Secretary for Government Business and Constitutional Relations

Alun Davies AM - Cabinet Secretary for Local Government and Public Service

Alun Davies AM
Cabinet Secretary for Local Government and Public Service


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