Government ‘blunder’ risks thousands of teenagers losing the right to vote, MP warns

Thousands of the region’s teenagers risk losing their right to vote in the general election after a Government blunder, MPs are warning.

Local authorities are failing to register “attainers” – 17-year-olds who could be adults by May 7 – after errors in letters drafted by the Cabinet Office, they say

Now figures  reveal an extraordinary 80 per cent fall in attainers on the books of just one council, County Durham.

If the slump – of just over 3,000, in just one year – is replicated across the region, it would mean that close to 20,000 first-time voters could lost their vote.

The controversy was raised in a recent Commons debate by Kevan Jones, the North Durham MP, who described the situation as a “scandal”.

In North Durham constituency, there were 647 attainers on the register in February last year, but that number has plummeted to just 126 one year later – after the mistake.

The pattern is repeated in Bishop Auckland (a fall from 662 attainers to 118), Durham City (from 625 to 177), Easington (from 641 to 95),  North West Durham (from 689 to 156) and in Sedgefield (from 513 to 97).

Mr Jones said:

“We could put the fall down to a drop in the birth rate in 1997 – clearly there was a lack of passion in North Durham – but that is obviously not the case.

 The Labour MP urged ministers to provide funding to local councils and require them to use other data they hold on 17-year-olds to get them registered in time.

And he said:

“That must be done, otherwise many 17-year-olds who will turn 18 before May 7 will assume that they will get a vote, but will not get it.”

Under the old system, where the head of the household registered all voters, a section of the form asked for the names of any 17-year-olds to be added.

But the sentence is missing from letters sent out under the new system – of individual electoral registration (IER) – which is being introduced to combat fraud.

In reply, the deputy Commons leader Tom Brake, promised to write to Mr Jones, but stopped short of agreeing to instruct – and fund – town halls, to correct the problem.

 A spokesman for the Electoral Commission said it was “encouraging all local authorities” to write to every property in their area to tell 16 and 17-year-olds to go online to register.

Meanwhile, Bishop Auckland MP Helen Goodman criticised a separate barrier in the way of young people attempting to register – the requirement to provide a national insurance number.

She told ministers:

“A letter with a young person’s national insurance number arrives before they are 16 and we are suggesting that two years later teenagers will know where that letter is and have kept it in a safe place. I cannot think of anything more naïve.”

Source –  Northern Echo,  16 Feb 2015

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