Giving survivors of domestic abuse a voice through anonymous registration
Minister for the Constitution Chris Skidmore explains why the UK Government wants to make it easier for people to register to vote anonymously.
Just after taking office, I received a letter from Women’s Aid detailing the story of Mehala Osborne and her campaign to support survivors of domestic abuse to register to vote anonymously.
I met with Mehala recently and was truly inspired by her story. After being forced to flee her home due to an abusive relationship, she found sanctity in a local safe house to start her life again. However, she found she was unable to register to vote because her safe house address had to stay secret. She was effectively excluded from the democratic process.
But Mehala didn’t let her experiences crush her spirit, she used them to empower other women and ensure they can continue to participate in our democracy.
Anonymous registration is already available to people whose safety would be at risk if their name and address appeared on the electoral register, but it requires court documents or the signature of a “qualifying officer” such as a senior police officer in order to register anonymously.
Many survivors of domestic abuse don’t meet these stringent requirements and are essentially locked out of the democratic process.
At Cabinet Office questions in September, I announced that the government would be examining the qualifying evidence to register to vote anonymously.
The announcement was warmly welcomed but I don’t just want to talk about it, I want to help deliver change. I want to build a democracy that works for everyone and fixing policy issues on areas such as anonymous registration is going to be a key part of that.
Earlier this week I met with a number of representatives from domestic abuse charities and electoral organisations.
I heard accounts of survivors of domestic abuse who are unable to register to vote because the system is too complicated; they don’t know who to speak to; or they are unable to provide the right information.
Polly Neate, Chief Executive of Women’s Aid, said:
The evidence criteria for registering anonymously must be broadened to account for the real lives of women fleeing domestic abuse. As a minimum, qualifying officers for letters of attestation must include refuge workers and staff at domestic abuse organisations. The criteria must also reflect that domestic abuse frequently continues long after the relationship has ended, so anonymous registration must be a long-term option for women who need it.
It was encouraging to find so many experts from across the field willing to come and share their views, and take on these challenges. I would like to thank Women’s Aid, Survive, Imkaan, Next Link and others for coming along and sharing their insight and ideas, and I look forward to working together to deliver important policy changes.
We often talk about victims of domestic abuse as some of the most vulnerable in society, but they are some of the bravest too.
Mehala wanted to make the system work better for people like her and even before she could start she was denied one of the most basic of freedoms we hold in the UK. The conversations this week were the first step to looking at how the process for anonymous registration can be improved and I am determined to see this through and move a step closer to a democracy that works for everyone.