Register to vote

Individual electoral registration - frequently asked questions

Has the registration system changed?

The electoral registration system in Great Britain changed in 2014. The new system is called “Individual Electoral Registration”. This began in Scotland on 19 September 2014.

What is individual electoral registration (IER)?

Previously, the head of household was responsible for registering everyone who lived at the address, but now every individual is responsible for their own voter registration. This is called Individual Electoral Registration (IER). The new system also means that people are now able to register online. Anyone newly registering under the new system will need to register themselves individually by filling out a paper or online form.

Why has the system changed?

Individual electoral registration gives you the right and responsibility to register yourself, instead of giving the responsibility to a head of household. As such, it encourages people to take individual responsibility for their own vote.

The change has also allowed more convenient methods of registration, for example, by internet. Because the new system asks you for a few more details before you are added to the register (your National Insurance number and date of birth) the electoral register will be more secure and more resistant to threats of electoral fraud.

Who is responsible for changing the system?

The system was introduced by the UK government through the Electoral Registration and Administration Act 2013, which became law on 31 January 2013. Electoral Registration Officers are implementing the change.

Does the change affect how I vote?

Voting processes have not changed. However, if you want to vote by post or proxy you will need to ensure that you are registered under the new system. If you have not already applied to vote by post, you will need to do so by 5pm, 11 working days before an election.

If you have not already applied to vote by proxy, the deadline is normally 6 working days before an election, apart from in the case of a medical emergency or if you are called away unexpectedly for work reasons, when you may be able to apply up to 5pm on polling day.

I voted in the Referendum/UK Parliamentary General Election. Why have I received a Household Enquiry Form (HEF)?

The Electoral Registration Officer (ERO) has to carry out an annual canvass of electors every year to find out who is eligible to vote in each house.

Do I have to fill in the household enquiry form (HEF)?

By law, you need to provide the information requested on the HEF. You can use the online, SMS or telephone response facility detailed on the HEF to provide the information. Please note that only the online facility can be used to notify changes. Alternatively you can complete the form and return in the envelope provided.

There is a criminal penalty (maximum fine £1k) for failing to provide the information required by the HEF to the ERO. The penalty for providing false information to an ERO is imprisonment of up to six months or a fine (on summary conviction) of a maximum of £5k.

Do I put down everyone who lives here?

You need to advise the ERO of the name and nationality of everyone aged 14 or over who is resident and eligible to vote. You should only include 14 year olds who will turn 15 by 30 November 2015. If there are no eligible residents, you should state why this is the case.

Why does the HEF ask for details of 14 and 15 year olds?

A recent change to the law in Scotland means that people are able to vote in Scottish Parliamentary and Local Government elections when they are 16 (from May 2016). The form asks for details so the ERO can make sure they are registered when they are old enough to vote. You still need to be 18 to be able vote in UK Parliamentary and European Parliamentary elections.

There are people listed on the household enquiry form (HEF) that do not live here, what do I do?

If anyone listed on the HEF is not living at your address you need to let the ERO know. You can use the online response facility detailed on the HEF to do this. Please note that you are not able to use the SMS and telephone options to let the ERO know that people are no longer resident. Alternatively you can complete the form and return it in the envelope provided.

Do I need to include my email address and phone number on the HEF?

You are invited to include your email address and phone number on the HEF, but you do not have to. The ERO will use this information only in connection with your registration, and it helps us to contact you if there is a problem.

I have already returned a HEF, do I need to return the Invitation to Register (ITR) form I have received too?

You still need to respond to the ITR. The HEF is not a registration form, but instead provides the ERO with information on who lives in your household. This means he can invite other residents to register to vote if he needs to.

The simplest way to register is by completing an online form. Alternatively you can complete the form and return it in the envelope provided.

I received an Invitation to Register, but I already registered online

Online registration can take a few days to process, so it is possible that the letter was prepared before your online registration was processed. You do not need to return the paper form if you have received confirmation that your online application has been received. The ERO will contact you to confirm your registration.

Can a family member register me?

Everybody needs to register themselves. It is straightforward and quick and you can register online. If you are unable to register yourself, it's ok to get help filling in the details, but you must make the declaration yourself.

Can I register at two addresses?

Normally people are registered at their permanent home address. Students may register at both their term-time and non-term-time address. If you are living somewhere temporarily but have a permanent address elsewhere, you should register at the permanent address.

Must I register and what happens if I do not register?

If the ERO has invited you to register to vote it is important that you respond. If you do not register, he will send you reminders through the post and someone will visit your home. At the end of this process he may send you a requirement to register; if you fail to do so without providing adequate reason why you have not, you may be fined £80.

Not being registered can also impact on applications for mortgages or mobile phones, since credit reference agencies use the register to validate applications.

How do I change my name on the register?

If your name has changed you can complete a change of name form with your previous and new name and the date of the change. You will need to provide evidence to support the change of name, such as a marriage certificate or deed poll certificate (although there is a process if you can't provide this. Please contact the ERO on 01835 825 100 or contact us online for more information).

I live overseas, can I register?

British citizens living abroad can vote in UK Parliamentary and European Parliamentary elections, but not in local elections or elections to the Scottish Parliament. British citizens living abroad for more than 15 years are not eligible to register to vote in UK elections. You can register as an overseas elector online with the local authority for the address where you were last registered in the UK.

I am a service voter, how do I register?

Members of HM Forces and their spouse or civil partner can register as an ordinary elector or they have the option to register as a service voter, you can do this online. A service declaration must be completed, which is valid for five years. Each unit of the services has designated one member of staff to be a Unit Registration Officer who will be able to provide further advice.

Who is eligible to register to vote?

You can register to vote in Scotland if you are:

  • resident (usually live in Scotland)
  • aged 15 or over, but you will not be able to vote in Scottish Parliamentary or Local Government elections until you are 16 (from May 2016). You will not be able to vote in UK Parliamentary or European Parliamentary elections until you are 18.

You must also be either:

  • a British, Irish or European Union citizen
  • a Commonwealth citizen who has leave to remain in the UK or who does not require leave to remain in the UK

How do I find my National Insurance number?

A National Insurance number is a reference number used by government. The easiest place to find your National Insurance number is on official paperwork, such as your National Insurance card, payslips or letters from the Department for Work and Pensions or HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC). Students may be able to find it in their university registration details or application for student loan. If you still can’t find it you can use the HMRC enquiry service.

If you do not have access to the internet you can call National Insurance Registrations Helpline on 0300 200 3502. Please be aware that HMRC will not tell you your National Insurance number over the phone, they will post it to you.

I do not know my date of birth

If you do not know your actual date of birth, you may have been given an official one in the past and this can be used to register to vote. This can be found on paperwork, including a passport, adoption certificate, driving licence or naturalisation certificate. If you do not have one, you will need to explain why you are unable to provide it in your registration application.

Can you provide information in another format (Braille, large print, etc.)?

If you want to register to vote, you can register online, where you will find assistive technologies such as screen readers, or the ERO can send you an application to register form in another format.

How will I know if my online registration was successful?

You will be sent a letter by the ERO confirming that your registration was successful, or asking for more information if that is required. If you have provided your email address or phone numbers, you may be contacted that way instead.

What is the open (edited) register?

Using information received from the public, registration officers keep two registers the electoral register and the open register (also known as the edited register).

The electoral register lists the names and addresses of everyone who is registered to vote in public elections. The register is used for electoral purposes, such as making sure only eligible people can vote. It is also used for other limited purposes specified in law, such as detecting crime (e.g. fraud), calling people for jury service and checking credit applications.

The open register is an extract of the electoral register, but is not used for elections. It can be bought by any person, company or organisation. For example, it is used by businesses and charities to confirm name and address details.

Your name and address will be included in the open register unless you ask for them to be removed. Removing your details from the open register does not affect your right to vote.

If you wish to change your open register choice

We will write to you once we have changed your open register status. The letter will confirm the change we have made and will tell you when a new version of the register reflecting your request will be published.