Registering to vote takes minutes, and you don’t need your NI number. Photograph: Murdo MacLeod/Murdo MacLeod
Question five of the online voter registration form asks: what is your national insurance number? It is a question that less than a quarter of the population can answer.
However, contrary to much media coverage, it is not actually essential to provide your national insurance number in order to vote. It is simply a way for officials to identify you. If you don’t know your NI number – which can usually be found on payslips or official letters about benefits, tax or pensions – you can just say so. It is then up to your local council to verify your identity.
“Under the new online registration system it’s just one of the ways you can have your identity verified,” says Oliver Sidorczuk, director of Bite the Ballot. “If you fill in the application, without your national insurance number, it’s your local council’s duty to verify you.”
Do you know where this is? Of course not. Photograph: the Guardian
According to the Cabinet Office, electoral registration officials will then contact you if they are unable to verify the application using other local data sources.
Such sources include cross-referencing your information with data from the Department for Work and Pensions and the Student Loans Company. “The hole in the logic is where 16
and 17-year-olds don’t have a job or haven’t applied for a student loan,” says Sidorczuk.
“Then it’s sent to local council where it’s checked with local data sets.” If they fail to verify you, the local electoral registration office will contact you to request further identification.
This will likely be a photograph of your passport, or driving licence. “Most progressive councils should, and I would suggest must, allow you to email in smartphone photos of your passport and driving licence,” says Sidorczuk.
Less than 25% of the population know their NI number, estimates Ben Page. head of polling organisation Ipsos Mori. If you are one of them, all you have to do when filling in the online form is explain why don’t know it. You can simply write: “I don’t know where it is.”
A simple explanation is all that’s required. Photograph: gov.uk
A survey by the independent Electoral Commission in 2011 found that 73% of the electorate would not be concerned if they were asked to provide their NI number when registering to vote. But this survey preceded the online registration system where many people might be unwilling to provide their NI number and date of birth because of fears it could lead to identity theft.
Although you must apply by 20 April, local electoral registration offices have until 28 April to verify your identity.