One of the questions that has arisen across universities and SUs when thinking about student voter registration (and, in England, the OfS regulated duty to facilitate the electoral registration of students) has surrounded National Insurance numbers.
Many students don’t have one or don’t know what it is – and many universities considering using data transfer options do not collect or hold NI numbers. Many universities have been told by their local Electoral Registration Officer that they require NI numbers.
As part of the Wonkhe SUs project we raised the issue with the Cabinet Office and got the following, helpful reply:
The process for students to register to vote is the same as an ordinary voter. Provision of a National Insurance Number (NINo) is not a requirement to register to vote; eligibility is determined by age, residence, and citizenship. The law requires that a person’s identity be verified before they can be added to the register, however. For the vast majority of people this is done by checking the NINo they provide when applying against DWP data. This is typically straightforward for applicants and, importantly, the most cost-effective way to establish identity for electoral administrators.
But, if an individual, including a student, is unable to provide their NINo, the electoral registration officer (ERO) may be able to use locally-held data to verify their identity, or may require applicants to provide documentary evidence of their identity, such as a copy of their passport, in order to allow the ERO to verify their identity.
The sources of locally-held data are not defined in legislation, however, which means that an ERO may be able to use data held by higher education providers in their area to verify an elector’s identity. Higher education providers in England, registered with the Office for Students, are under a duty to facilitate, in cooperation with EROs in England, the electoral registration of students. This is to help EROs identify students in their area so that they can invite them to register. The Office for Students has issued guidance to higher education providers which includes noting that they are required to comply with requests from EROs for information about students which the ERO requires for the purposes of maintaining the electoral register.
One of the key elements in using local data matching to make a determination on an elector is the ERO’s confidence in the specific record used to match against the application. The level of trust an ERO places in an individual record will be affected by their belief that the data source as a whole can be considered to be reliable. There are three principles in making a determination based on local data that EROs should consider:
- Any determination made by an ERO should take into account the results of the data match against the DWP database prior to local data matching, where this takes place;
- Any decision made by an ERO should be capable of being defended in the event of challenge with a clear audit trail;
- An ERO should be confident that the local information they are using verifies the identity of a new applicant – where the ERO has any doubt as to the evidence they should proceed to the next stage of the process (documentary evidence).
If using data held by higher education providers to verify an elector’s identity, an ERO would need to be confident that the data met these three principles.
The reply clearly opens up the conversation between universities and EROs for scenarios where students give permission for their data to be transferred by the university to a local ERO for the purposes of electoral registration, either at enrollment or on an ongoing basis. Do let us know how you get on!