There’s just over a month to go until the historic EU Referendum, but there are UK citizens living overseas who still aren’t #ReferendumReady. There are just two steps to take before being ready for the referendum – registering to vote and choosing how to vote.
A lot of people aren’t aware that it’s possible to register as an overseas voter for certain UK polls, including the upcoming EU Referendum. Many expats are eligible to vote and can take the first step by going online to register to vote at www.gov.uk/register-to-vote.
We asked some of the estimated 5.5 million UK citizens living overseas whether they know that it’s possible to register online to vote. Out of over 4700 respondents, only half knew that they can now register online to vote. Before online registration became available in June 2014, applicants had to complete a paper application before posting it back to the Electoral Registration Officer for the local authority where they were last registered in the UK. The need for overseas voters to provide an attestation from another UK citizen also living in the same overseas locality) has also been removed when certain details are provided. What used to be a real hassle can now be done online in five minutes with just your National Insurance number and passport to hand.
Don’t worry if you don’t have a National Insurance number as you can still register, but you may be asked to supply more information to confirm you identity. If you don’t have a British passport you will be asked to provide an additional statement as part of your application.
More than 275,000 applications to become an overseas voter have already been submitted through this simpler registration journey since the online registration system was made available in June 2014. There have been 80,000 applications alone since our overseas voter public awareness campaign kicked off in mid-March, but we know that there are many more UK expats who have yet to register. In fact when we asked expats their reasons for not voting, 21% of the respondents we spoke to who did not vote in 2015 said that they did not know they could. When asked their reasons for not voting, a further 21% of respondents who did not vote in 2015 said that they did not know how they could register and vote, and yet it’s much easier now.
To be #ReferendumReady, you don’t even need to wait for you registration to be confirmed before moving onto the next step which is choosing how you wish to vote. Living overseas you’re unlikely to be able to vote in person back in the UK so the choice is really between voting by post or by proxy (voting by appointing someone you trust to vote on your behalf).
We know there is some concern that overseas voters may not be able to vote by post in time based on their experience at the 2015 UK Parliamentary General Election. If you register to vote by 16 May it should be easier to vote by post as postal votes for the referendum will be sent out earlier than usual, giving you a bit more time to receive, complete and return your ballot pack to the UK.
If you don’t think you can return your postal vote papers in time or you find yourself applying after 16 May you should consider voting by proxy. If you want to vote by proxy, bear in mind that the person you choose to vote on your behalf must be registered and eligible to vote at the referendum.
Once you’ve completed this second step you’ll be #ReferendumReady for 23 June. As the EU Referendum is going to be such a significant referendum in which lots of UK citizens will want to participate, please spread the word to fellow British expats. We’ve even created a guide to help you get the message out so take a look and think about doing at least one of the things listed.
Director of Communications