The number of Brits not registered to vote has more than doubled over 10 years, research by the Electoral Commission has shown.
The commission has blamed a mixture of growing immigration and declining political participation for the figure hitting almost 8.5m people in 2011.
Commission chair Jenny Watson warned that council-employed electoral registration officers (EROs) would find it “increasingly challenging” to deal with declining levels of voter registration at the same time as the introduction of individual electoral registration.
As part of the solution the commission is calling for “new powers” that will allow it to “set and monitor performance standards for EROs”, which it claims would be used only as a last resort.
Ms Watson said: “EROs need to keep finding better ways of identifying people we know are less likely to be registered and they will need adequate funding from local authorities to do that properly,” she said.
She added that as well as political and demographic changes, many people who were not registered to vote wrongly believed that they did have such an entitlement.
Solace has welcomed the government’s allocation of more than £100m to fund the introduction of individual registration, but warned its effects would depend entirely on funding distribution at local authority level.
Graeme McDonald, policy and communications director, said that while the commission had a key role to play in encouraging people to register to vote, talk of unspecified further powers over council officers was cause for concern.
The Electoral Commission’s specific call is for “an effective, straightforward and timely method for ensuring EROs deliver the transition to individual registration effectively and manage the risks that it involves.
In particular, it has asked the government for its existing powers to set and monitor standards to be “strengthened, with appropriate sanctions to enable us to intervene to ensure that EROs take steps to meet the agreed standards”.
It claims the powers would only be used as a last resort “in cases where there is an unacceptable risk that electors may not receive a consistently high-quality service”.