Guidelines undermine right to vote of homeless

CAMPAIGNERS for the homeless and civil liberties claim new Home Office guidelines on voting rights leave thousands of homeless people disenfranchised.

The guidelines insist eligibility to vote depends on residence at a specified address.

But the Housing Campaign for Single People (Char) and Liberty say this ignores a recent judgment in favour of a man who used a day centre for meals and as a postal address but did not sleep there.

“The law accommodates those who live abroad and allows those with two homes the chance to choose where to vote, but many of those who have no home are prevented from voting at all,” said Char director Jon Fitzmaurice.

Liberty director John Wadham added: “It is bad enough being homeless, but losing the fundamental right to vote is unacceptable.”

Liberty will seek judicial review of the guidelines.

The judgment, made in Penzance County Court in March, ruled a person could be resident at an address even if he did not sleep there. But the Home Office guidelines say that judgment is not a precedent and electoral registration officers (EROs) must still decide whether an individual has a qualifying address.

Wadham said the Home Office should be more flexible. “EROs must make sure homeless people are not registered in different places, but provided they can cross-check there should be no problem.”

The Home Office accepts unusual forms of residence including tents, caravans, and boats can provide a qualification, but questions whether hostels or sleeping rough are adequate proof under the Representation of the People Acts.