2 As part of the 2017 Manifesto, the Government reiterated its 2015 manifesto commitment to bring forward a Bill to implement ‘votes for life’, removing the current rule that means British citizens abroad can only vote for 15 years from the point they were last registered to vote in the UK. The Overseas Electors Bill is intended to fulfil that commitment.
3 The overseas franchise was created by the Representation of the People Act 1985, which first enabled British citizens resident abroad to vote in UK elections. It set a limit of 5 years from the date of last being registered in the UK. This limit was extended in 1989 to 20 years, and then reduced in 2002 to the current limit of 15 years.
4 Under the present system:
i. British citizens who have moved abroad and wish to vote in parliamentary elections can apply to register as an overseas elector in the constituency in which they were last registered before leaving the UK, provided they were registered within 15 years of making that application 1 . Currently, anyone not previously registered is not entitled to register as an overseas elector. An exception to this is for those who were too young to register to vote when they left the UK, who are entitled to register using their parents’ or guardians’ former registration address if they were also resident at that address. This is also subject to a 15 year limit, from when the person left the UK.
ii. The identities of overseas electors are verified in the same way as that of domestic electors (using their name, date of birth and National Insurance number, with a separate process for those unable to provide a National Insurance number). Registrations must be renewed annually to remain on the register.
iii. There is separate provision for those serving in the armed forces, Crown servants (such as those in the diplomatic service and the overseas civil service), and employees of the British Council, together with their spouses or civil partners. The 15 year time limit does not apply to these categories of electors and they can vote in the full range of UK elections for as long as they remain qualified under the separate provisions (by remaining in the armed forces, for example).
1 An overseas elector who is entitled to vote in a parliamentary election in pursuance of an overseas elector's declaration is also entitled to vote as an overseas elector in a European Parliamentary election.