COUNCILS are making thousands of pounds by selling information on voters on their electoral rolls.
Local authorities are allowed by law to make some data available to specified organisations, such as credit agencies.
But councils are being accused of topping up their income by selling on residents’ details – a practice which objectors claim can lead to an influx of junk mail.
Over the last six years, Sunderland City Council has made £19,459 by sharing such details.
And in the last 12 months, Durham County Council has made almost £6,000 by doing likewise.
Council bosses claim putting edited versions of electoral rolls up for sale is something they are legally obliged to do, with all the cash raised being ploughed back into services for voters.
However, the Local Government Association says the practice undermines democracy and that the law must be changed.
And Jonathan Isaby, political director of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said the figures would make many people feel fearful.
He said: “Most people will be very uncomfortable with the fact that councils are allowed to treat this information about their local residents as an asset to be hawked around for sizeable chunks of cash.
“Banning the practice of selling the electoral roll would be a positive step towards reminding councils that they don’t own us and that they should in fact be beholden to their residents, not vice versa.
“The default assumption should be that residents’ details should not appear on the version of the register being sold and that people should have to actively opt in rather than make a conscious decision to opt out.”
A Local Government Association spokesman said: “Town halls hugely resent having to pass the electoral roll to direct marketing companies.
“Most people hate junk mail and cold calling, and councils don’t want to be a part of the process that generates money for junk mail companies in this way.
“Selling the electoral roll undermines democracy, dissuades people from voting and gives people the impression that the council is profiting from selling their personal information.
“Ministers must change the law to ban junk mail firms from getting their information through the electoral roll.”
Dave Smith, electoral registration officer for Sunderland City Council, said it had no choice over releasing the data.
“The council has no discretion in this matter,” he said. “It has a legal and statutory duty to supply the information.
“The law allows electors to opt out of the edited register.
“The council updates the edited register every year, and people can choose not to appear by ticking the relevant box on the voter registration form that the council issues.
“Of the city’s 216,281 registered electors, 59,669 on the current register have made this choice to opt out.”