Thousands of expats are being denied the right to vote in June’s snap general election because they have lived abroad for more than 15 years. Those who have lived abroad for less than 15 years can still register to vote by May 22.
Last year, many of those living in the EU were denied a vote on Brexit for the same reason. The Government had pledged to introduce a votes for life system before the next general election in 2020. But the announcement of a snap election was made before any Bill was passed and such a system put in place, which means once again, expats are being denied the chance to vote.
The decision has been branded unfair, particularly for any British expats living in Europe, who could face some life-changing challenges in the wake of Brexit.
Roger Casale, founder of New Europeans, an organisation which gives a voice to European expats, described the situation as shameful. He wrote to the Government about the issue and received a reply saying that whilst the votes for life pledge still stood, there was insufficient time to implement it before June 8.
In his letter he wrote: “That is not going to go down well with the 5.5 million Brits living abroad who will feel let down by your failure to do what you said you would do, namely to enfranchise them before the next election (whenever it is held).”
It’s not just Brexit that expats could miss out having a say on when it comes to electing a new government. Potential tax increases for income tax, inheritance tax and pensions changes could all impact without expats having any chance to vote.
The current battle came about as a result of court action by second world war veteran Harry Shindler. Mr Shindler fought in Italy at the Battle of Anzio in 1944. He eventually moved to Italy in 1982 to be closer to his son but has been unable to vote in the UK since 1997. The 95-year-old is also ineligible to vote in Italy.
Just two months ago constitution minister Chris Skidmore had assured campaigners the government was on track to keep its vote for life pledge as “their stake in our country must be respected”.
Expats can register to vote overseas but their registration expires after 12 months and must be renewed every year. The deadline for registration for June’s election is May 22. Expats can vote by proxy – nominating someone in the UK to vote on behalf of them. This is perhaps the safest way because postal votes might not reach them in time. Expats can opt for a postal vote instead but the ballot paper needs to be returned and received by 10pm on polling day.
The election issues which could affect expats
Brexit – Brexit is THE big issue and the reason why Theresa May has called for a general election. The rights of expats living in the EU could be severely affected by Brexit, resulting in the need to apply for visas, loss of access to healthcare and even being told to leave a country if the British government does not safeguard them.
Inheritance tax - Labour has recently said it may halve the inheritance tax threshold to £425,000. Expats who still have homes in the UK and wish to leave them to their children when they die could find their property is now subject to 40% inheritance tax, particularly in London and the South East.
Income tax - The Tories have so far refused to say if they’ll honour their 2015 tax lock guarantee. Labour has also said it will protect low and medium income earners but has yet to be specific about higher earners and what they’ll pay. Expats who still receive a UK income could face bigger tax bills.
Pensions – Any increases in income tax will hit pensions as they are taxable. Theresa May is also considering removing the triple lock pledge which guaranteed a 2.5% annual increase for state pensions. If you’re an expat still claiming a UK state pension the amount you receive could be affected.