BOLTON Council has defended selling people’s names and addressed to companies and individuals — saying it is obliged to by law.

It has emerged that the local authority was one of more than 300 to sell the information.

According to a Freedom of Information Act request the council sold the edited electoral register — made up of people who register to vote and do not opt out of the edited version — to Scott Dawson Advert-ising, Imap UK, Rivington Mortgages, Kippax Beaumont and Lewis, The Asian Pages, Electoral Reform Services, Hot Print Design and six unnamed individuals over the past five years for a total of £1,239.53.

Privacy campaigners say the sale of the register leads to companies sending junk mail and are calling for the Government to abolish the edited register or allow councils to offer people a permanent opt-out instead of the current system that requires people to opt out annually.

Town Hall chiefs say they are obliged to sell the information on by law.

A Bolton Council spokesman said: “We have no control over who can purchase it. However, it is very rare that we get a request. We are also obliged to sell the full register to credit reference companies, who can if they wish sell on the edited register data to other recipients.

“The amount we receive by selling the register is only a fraction of the cost of producing it so this is by no means a profit-inducing exercise for us. A statutory fee is set by central government, to which all local authorities adhere.”

Big Brother Watch director Nick Pickles said registering to vote “should not be a back door” for names and addresses to be sold to anyone.

The findings show there have been at least 2,742 sales of the edited register over the five-year period, raking in at least £265,161.21 for the local authorities.

The council with the most buyers was Westminster, which sold it 93 times.

Big Brother Watch said if the edited electoral register is to be retained, the Cabinet Office should allow councils to include a permanent opt-out option on the electoral registration form, something currently not possible due to statutory provisions.

A spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government said: “Junk mail is a menace and councils should be looking at ways to make sensible savings and not taking advantage of voters.”