Votes for Life


An estimated 3.4 million British Citizens living overseas are currently unable to vote in the UK (disenfranchised). This is due to the 15-year restriction (those who left the UK more than 15 years ago are ineligible to vote in the UK). Voting in Austria at local level is at best also discretionary for British Nationals.

Change is on the way, with the Elections Act 2022 receiving Royal Ascent on 28th April 2022, which will mean the removal of the 15-year restriction. Once secondary legislation is passed, new registrations open for voting from 16 January 2024.

What will change?

Changes are still needed to the secondary legislation associated with Overseas voters to remove the 15-year restriction; other issues being worked on relate to how it will actually work in practice (e.g. verifying eligibility)

When will I be able to vote?

As stated previously, detailed secondary legislation is required to implement many aspects of the new provisions. It will be brought forward in December 2023 with newly eligible overseas voters able to register to vote from 16th January 2024. Some constituencies have allowed people to register before this date but that is not official.

What restrictions will apply?

British citizens who never registered to vote before leaving the UK are also currently ineligible to be overseas voters regardless of how long they have lived overseas. There is an exception for those who left as minors before being able to register – they may use their parent or guardian’s registration address.

How and where will I be able to vote?

You can vote in any UK Parliamentary election which includes general elections and by-elections. You may be able to vote in referendums, but you still cannot vote in local elections. There are also different rules for Stormont, the Senedd and Holyrood elections, in NI, Wales and Scotland.

You will be able to vote for candidates at the last constituency where you were resident in the UK. First you will need to be listed on the Overseas Voters Register. You can also set up a Proxy vote, which is recommended by the Electoral Commission.

Note: This is UK specific and has nothing to do with voting in Austria which is still restricted for UK nationals.

Proxy Votes

Given the potential issues with postal voting (e.g. postage delays), it is recommended that a Proxy vote be set up. This is where a trusted friend or relative votes on your behalf. Here is some useful advice from the Electoral Commission:

“Anyone can be their proxy as long as they are eligible to vote in the election and they are willing to vote on the overseas voter behalf. A voter can only act as a proxy for up to two people living in the UK (and up to two people registered as living overseas).

The proxy must go to the voters local polling station to cast their vote. Voters will need to show photo ID before voting in person at UK parliamentary general elections. If they can’t go to the voters local polling station for example they live in a different constituency, they can apply to the voters local authority to vote by post up to 5pm, 11 working days before the poll. They should contact the voters local authority to explain that they are they are appointed proxy and obtain a postal voting form, and return the completed form to them. ” 

Note: If you applied for a proxy vote before 31 October 2023, this will expire on 31 January 2024 and you will need to apply for a new one (see electoral commission link)

Does the proxy need to be in the same constituency?

As this question has come up a few times already, we thought it would be useful to reference the relevant section from the British in Europe FAQ directly:

Q. My best friend Emma used to be my proxy but she has moved away from my constituency. Does this mean I have to vote by post or in person now?

A. No, you have two options: Either, you can approach the local constituency office of the party you want to vote for and ask them to provide a proxy for you. Or, you can stick with your best friend and ask for a combined proxy and postal vote through her. This sounds complicated but it is actually quite straightforward. If Emma now lives in Manchester but you are registered to vote in Motherwell, Emma can ask for a postal proxy vote to be posted to her in Manchester, she fills it in and then posts it back to Motherwell.”

British in Europe

British in Europe has been awarded a grant by the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust to work on advocacy and some communication work related to this. BiE has already had meetings with the UK Government Department for Levelling Up (the department responsible for the drafting and adoption of the secondary legislation). A voting rights survey has also been produced and hopefully results will be available shortly. 


The British in Europe FAQs should hopefully answer most of your questions.

Useful Links

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