New voting rights for Britons abroad - we're nearly there!

3 Nov 2023
Polling station sign

The UK Government has published detailed regulations that will allow millions of British citizens living abroad for more than 15 years to vote in the next general election, as required by the Elections Act passed in April 2022.

Currently British citizens abroad can only vote in elections for up to 15 years after leaving the UK, but the new procedures will change this when they come into force early next year. Amendments to existing election law on overseas voter registration as outlined in the Elections Act 2022 will:
· abolish the 15-year rule
· increase the registration period to three years from one year
· and set proxy voter limits of up to four people living abroad.

The detailed legislation (known as Statutory Instruments) will be debated by both Houses of Parliament and is expected to become law in time for the registration of overseas voters in January 2024. This would allow all eligible overseas voters to register before the next general election provided it takes place as expected either in the spring or autumn of 2024. The new rules would apply to all British citizens of voting age who are living overseas who have previously lived in the UK or were registered to vote there.

“It’s a great relief to finally have these regulations in the system and a firm target date for new voters to get their registration started,” said Jenny Shorten, Chair of LibDems in France. “There’s still work to be done to make sure the detail of how it all works is as fair and easy to use as possible. “Liberal Democrats will carry on working with the Government, MPs, peers and others to press for a simple and effective system that takes into account the needs of voters living overseas.”

Liberal Democrats Abroad have some practical advice for eligible electors, both existing and new, to help them have a positive experience when it comes to claiming their vote. “We’ve been told by several election administrators that they expect quite a rush when the new registration portal opens in January next year," says Jenny. “That’s why we are suggesting that British citizens who have been away from the UK for less than 15 years and aren’t registered, should do so before the New Year using the existing online system on the government website."

For newly-eligible overseas voters, the advice is to start preparing in advance of registration by gathering details of their proof of identity (for example, their National Insurance number, plus current and expired passports). In addition, they will need to provide evidence of their last place of residence or of voter registration in the UK.

“We’ve also heard from Britons abroad that they are worried about how long it can take to receive and return their ballots by post at election time. That’s why we’re strongly advising people to think about who they can nominate as their proxy in the UK to vote on their behalf.”

“Not everyone realises that this doesn’t have to be someone from the constituency where they have a vote. It just needs to be an eligible voter in the UK, who will then receive and return the ballot paper back by post for them. We think this is going to give people a much wider choice of who to ask and could be especially important for those who have lived outside the UK for more than 15 years. “

LibDems Abroad will continue to provide information to British citizens living overseas as the new system comes into force and invites them to register their details for updates.

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