UK citizens abroad regain permanent right to vote

After years of campaigns, British citizens who live abroad have regained the vote for life in UK general elections. As of 16 January 2024, they can register to vote to participate in the election expected later this year.

A new law, adopted in April 2022 but taking effect only now, has removed the rule by which UK citizens lost their electoral rights if they lived overseas for more than 15 years.

It also abolished the requirement to have been previously registered in the UK electoral roll to become an overseas voter. Any British citizen aged 18 and over who previously lived in the UK, even if that was only as a child, can now register to vote.

It is estimated that these changes could increase the number of overseas voter registrations by some 3 million. More than 6,300 people registered in the very first day the new rules applied, compared to a daily average of 200.

“Today is an historic day. More than 3 million disenfranchised Brits will be to begin registering to vote in future general elections. After so many years of not having our voices heard, it is time to have our say,” commented on X – former Twitter – citizens’ rights group British in Europe.

Britons abroad will be able to vote in general elections, by-elections and referendums, but they will not be able to participate in local elections and there are different rules for the election of devolved administrations in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

British in Europe co-chair Jane Golding told Europe Street: “This is a huge change for all British citizens abroad and we have to mention Harry Shindler, the veteran who has long campaigned for this moment and hasn’t lived to be able to exercise his vote”.

Here are the details on how to register. Further information are available on the British in Europe website.

How to register

The registration can be done at the website

UK citizens registering in England, Wales or Scotland can do so online or by post or it may be possible by telephone. UK citizens registering in Northern Ireland will have to download, print and complete a registration form.

The registration in the electoral roll will now last up to three years instead of only one year.

Who can register

Britons living abroad will have to register in the last place they were resident or they voted before leaving the UK. This means that those who have never lived in the UK will not be able to vote. Those who left when they were children will be able to use a parent or guardian’s address.

How to prove previous UK residence

Britons registering to vote will have to prove their identity, date of birth, and evidence the last place of residence or of voting in the UK.

To do so, they can provide their national insurance number. The Electoral Registration Officer (ERO) will check it against information held by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) to confirm the identity.

People without a national insurance number can provide a scan of the British passport (current or expired) or other documents proving the identity (for instance, a UK driving licence, a council tax demand, or letters from the tax office, from the DWP or from UK universities and schools). As a last resort, they can provide an attestation by someone who confirms their identity. There are strict rules about this, however.

British nationals who lived in the UK when they were children can provide the full name of a parent or guardian who was resident at the last address before going abroad, evidence that they were registered on the electoral roll, a copy of the birth certificate with the name of the parent or a certificate proving the appointment of the guardian.

How to vote

UK citizens overseas will be able to vote by post or by proxy or in person at their polling station if they are in the UK at the time of the election. As there have been problems and delays with postal voting in the past, the Electoral Commission recommended that overseas electors appoint a proxy to vote on their behalf.

Why voting

“We are frequently asked why we should vote in UK elections since we live abroad,” Jane Golding said. “The answer is because it is a UK citizenship right, but also because we are concerned about the same issues that are important for the UK resident population. We are concerned about the NHS and social care for our elderly parents who live in the UK, about education for our children who may study in the UK, about the minimum income requirement which makes it difficult to return to the UK with a spouse who is not British, and about more general issues such as climate policies.”

Claudia Delpero, Europe Street News © all rights reserved

Photo by Elio Santos on Unsplash

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