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Expat voting: How to vote when living abroad

Written by E4E Editor on 16 January 2015

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Even if you live abroad, ensuring that you vote in the UK is still important as government policies will still affect a number of crucial factors in your life including tax, personal allowance and foreign policy.

Later this year, on the 7th May, the UK goes to the polls for the 2015 General Election and if you are not registered to vote, you will not be able to have your say.

At the last General Election in 2010 there were a total of 45.5m registered voters of which there were 29.7m votes registered representing just 65.1% of the total registered voting population.

There are currently estimated to be around 5.5m British expats living abroad of which it is estimated by the Electoral Commission that in the 2014 European Parliamentary elections there were around 20,000 British expats registered to vote.

However, not all British expats are eligible to vote in the UK. Under UK law if an expat has lived outside of the UK for fifteen or more years, they are ineligible to vote. This represents an estimated 2m British expats of whom cannot vote in the UK.

Even excluding these voters from the figures, this means that in the last General Election a mere 0.6% of those who could vote actually did.

Why should British expats vote?

For the general election in 2015, the target for expat voting has been raised to 100,000. But why is it important for British expats to vote, and how do they go about it.

British nationals who no longer live in the UK are still subject to elements of UK law, as well as tax and are directly impacted by international policy. Simply put, your vote is your chance to have your say who you want to represent you in parliament.

Over the previous 24 months the debate has raged about the UK’s immigration policy and whether the UK should leave the European Union. With 2m expats living within the EU, the potential ramifications are unclear, but the questions have been raised and left unanswered. Each party has very clear policies on whether to stay in the EU, ranging from definitely out (UKIP) to definitely in (Green). Unfortunately only one of these parties is seeing a meteoric rise in popularity.

Then there’s taxation. Over the previous 24 months, consultations have been carried out which have led to one major change in taxation (the implementation of Capital Gains Tax on non-UK residents who sell UK properties) and one is waiting in the wings which will see non-UK residents exempt from having any personal allowance on their income.

With an estimated 20% of British expats being pensioners, many of whom are claiming the State Pension at just £113.10 a week. That is presuming that you’re not living in a country (such as Canada and Australia) which means that the State Pension amount you receive is frozen.

Removal of non-residents personal allowance would see the weekly income of expats living on the State Pension fall by as much as £23 per week as a result of 20% income tax being applied, leaving just £90.48 to live on.

The 15 year rule

And we mustn’t forget the voting rights themselves. While it’s been shown that very few expats take to the polls, that shouldn’t mean they have no right to do so. For the 2m people who have lived abroad for over 15 years, it is time to at least allow them to be eligible to vote by removing the law which even the EU has stated is unfair. So far, only the Conservative Party have pledged to make this happen if they get re-elected.

These are critical headline stories which directly impact expats, but other decisions such as healthcare and pension reforms along with general policy are also critical for expats who continue to maintain links home.

Why do so few expats vote?

One of the most pertinent reasons why British expats do not vote is that it is not immediately obvious how or when to vote.

Living in the UK we are bombarded with news, information and campaigns on a day-to-day basis about key election dates. We are encouraged to register more proactively with postal registrations through the door at least twice a year.

Simply put, this doesn’t happen abroad. While many British expats will read UK news, visit UK websites, very few actually focus on the expats themselves.

Until this year it had not been possible to even register online, which when combined with a general feeling of disillusionment is one barrier too many.

Now it is possible to register to vote online, expectation is that there will be more registrants for the next General Election, however it will still be necessary to either vote by post or through proxy (i.e. getting someone to vote for you in the UK).

It’s only a matter of time before this changes and the voting system becomes a fully online process for expats, however this is not expected to happen in time for the 2015 General Election.

Who should I vote for?

Knowing who to vote for is obviously a key factor in any election, and is currently one of the reasons why so many people opt out of voting – i.e. they don’t know about key policies or believe that the policies will be carried out. Another question is which party most accurately reflects your political viewpoint. Worst still, some people now just “don’t care”.

However, every party does have very clear policies set out some of which will often get lost in the high profile debates.

We don’t believe it is right for us to try to explain each of the party’s policies as we do not want to introduce our bias. So we have collated links to the policies of the six main parties (in alphabetical order) likely to be fighting it out at the General Election in 2015:

There are other parties of course, and a quick Google search will help you find the policies of the other parties involved.

How to register to vote

If you have lived in the UK within the previous fifteen years, the first step to being able to vote in the 2015 General Election is to get yourself registered.

Registering to vote is relatively straight forward and you can do it online in under five minutes. You will need your previous address and optionally your National Insurance number to hand (if you have one).

Then visit https://www.gov.uk/register-to-vote

On the next page you need to choose the option “British citizen living in another country” and then follow the simple instructions.

Unfortunately, while there will be a decision on allowing expats to vote if they have lived outside the UK for more than fifteen years next year, it is unlikely to come in time for the General Election. If you have lived outside the UK for more than 15 years, you can join the Vote for Expat Brits campaign to get the latest updates.

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