British citizens living overseas are currently entitled to be registered to vote in UK Parliamentary elections for up to 15 years in the constituency they were registered in before leaving the UK. After the general election the Government indicated that it would bring forward a Votes for Life Bill; this Bill has not yet been introduced but on 7 October 2016 the Government published a policy statement which set out how the 15 year rule would be removed. This Briefing Paper provides details of the provisions relating to overseas voters in the Representation of the People Act 1985 and of earlier attempts to change the 15 year rule.Jump to full report >>
British citizens living overseas are entitled to be registered to vote in UK Parliamentary elections for up to 15 years in the constituency they were registered in before leaving the UK. They are not entitled to vote in UK local elections or elections to the devolved assemblies.
The latest figures, from December 2016, show there are almost 264,000 of registered overseas voters. This is the highest ever total. Until 2015 the level had never risen above 35,000. There are no estimates of how many British nationals living abroad would be eligible to register under the current 15 year rule.
During Business questions on 21 July 2016, the Leader of the House, David Lidington, indicated that extending the franchise was a complex matter “because we would have to not just extend the franchise but establish a new system of voter registration, which is not straightforward given that voter registers no longer exist for periods that go back earlier than 15 years. We have to find some way of allocating those individuals to constituencies and verifying a previous place of residence.”
On 7 October 2016 the Government published a policy statement, A democracy that works for everyone: British citizens overseas, which sets out how the 15 year rule will be removed and how all eligible British citizens who have lived in the UK will be given a lifelong right to vote in Parliamentary elections. British citizens living abroad will have to provide either a verifiable National Insurance number, or a current UK passport, or an identity attestation, in order to be registered as an overseas voter.
Overseas voters will continue to be registered at a previous address in the UK and the Electoral Registration Officer will need to be satisfied of their connection with that address. The registration will last for twelve months and will then have to be renewed.
Commons Briefing papers SN05923
Authors: Isobel White; Neil Johnston