What photo ID do you need to vote in the UK?

30 April 2024

The forthcoming general election will be the first across Great Britain to require citizens to show voter ID in order to vote at a polling station.

The introduction of photo identification as a condition for voting in person at certain elections in England, Wales and Scotland was first announced in the Queen’s Speech in May 2021, and passed into law in April 2022

But we’ve seen a number of misleading claims about the new rules, and not everyone is aware of how they work. 

According to the Electoral Commission around 14,000 people who went to a polling station in the May 2023 local elections were not able to vote because they were unable to show the right ID. 

And in a Survation poll of 15,000 people conducted in March 2024, 16% of respondents, particularly young people aged 34 and under, said they were unaware of the new voter ID rules.

This explainer is part of a series of ‘prebunking’ articles Full Fact is publishing ahead of the next general election, exploring a range of topics which are likely to feature in the campaign. We’ll be updating these articles on a regular basis—this article was last updated on 5 June 2024 and the information in it is correct as of then.

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Who needs photo ID to vote?

At the next general election, which will take place on 4 July, all in-person voters across the UK will need to show a form of accepted photographic identification before being issued with a ballot paper. This is also the case if you are voting in any by-election for the UK parliament, or signing a recall petition in person.

Beyond that, however, the rules vary somewhat:

  • In England, you also need photo ID to vote in person in local elections, including parish and other council elections, mayoral and Police and Crime Commissioner elections and local referendums.
  • In Wales, in-person voters must show photo ID in Police and Crime Commissioner elections.The Police and Crime Commissioner elections which took place on 2 May were the first time voters in Wales had to present photo ID at polling stations. However, voters in Wales do not need to show photo ID at a polling station in Senedd (Welsh Parliament) or local council elections.
  • In Scotland, you are only required to show photo ID to vote in person in UK parliamentary elections, by-elections and recall petitions. You do not need to present photo ID to vote in person at Scottish Parliament or council elections.

Which forms of photo ID are accepted?

A number of the claims we’ve fact checked about voter ID have been about the kind of documentation you need in order to be able to vote. For example, we’ve seen politicians make misleading comparisons with the ID needed to collect parcels or library books.

In-person voters need an accepted form of photographic identification:

  • In England, Scotland and Wales you can use a passport (from the UK, European Economic Area [EEA] or Commonwealth countries, the Channel Islands, Isle of Man, or British Overseas Territories) or driving licence (either full or provisional, from the UK, EEA countries, Channel Islands or Isle of Man). A range of other documents are also accepted, including Proof of Age Standards Scheme (PASS) cards, Blue Badges and certain local travel cards. See the full list here.
  • In Northern Ireland you can use a passport (from the UK, Ireland or EU, though EU passports aren’t accepted for UK parliamentary elections) or a driving licence (either full or provisional, from the UK, Ireland or EEA). There’s also a short list of alternative documents which are accepted, such as some Translink SmartPasses. 

Even if your ID is out of date it will still be accepted as long as you look like the photo and the name on the document matches the one registered to vote.

We’ve previously checked claims about the types of ID that can be used—for example, the fact that in England and Wales 60+ Oyster photocards are accepted while 18+ Student Oyster photocards are not has caused some controversy. (The government says the student card “does not have a suitably secure application process” for it to be used as voter ID.)

What if you don’t have any of these forms of ID?

If you don’t have an accepted form of photo ID but are eligible to vote, then you can apply, free of charge, for alternative documentation which you can take to the polling station:

  • In England, Wales and Scotland, this free voter ID document is called a Voter Authority Certificate (VAC). To apply for this you first have to be registered to vote, or have applied to register to vote. You can apply for a VAC online or by post, and some councils are making in-person applications available.The certificate won’t act as proof of identity for any other reason. Applications are free but require a photograph. Normally a National Insurance number is required, but those without one can apply using other documents such as a birth certificate or bank statement to prove their identity.

    You need to apply for a Voter Authority Certificate ahead of the election you are taking part in. The deadline for the 4 July 2024 general election is 5pm on 26 June.
  • In Northern Ireland those on the electoral register who do not have an accepted form of photo ID can apply for an Electoral Identity Card to use at polling stations. Applications can be made by post and in person. Getting an Electoral Identity Card in Northern Ireland is free, but normally takes six weeks to process. Expired cards can still be used to vote as long as you still resemble the photo on the card. 

Emergency proxy votes

In certain circumstances where you are unable to vote in person because of an emergency, you can apply for someone to vote on your behalf after the deadline for standard proxy applications (which is usually six working days before an election) has passed. This emergency proxy vote is only available in England, Scotland and Wales, not Northern Ireland.

The emergency has to be something you were not aware of before that deadline passed.

Emergency proxy applications can be made up to 5pm on polling day.

These applications may be accepted in cases where someone has had a medical emergency, is away for work, or if their photo ID is lost, stolen, destroyed or damaged, after the deadline to apply for a Voter Authority Certificate.

You can also apply for an emergency proxy vote if an Anonymous Elector's Document (which allows people to vote without their name and address being on the electoral register if the safety of them or someone in their household is at risk) is lost, stolen, destroyed or damaged. The Electoral Commission advises people who need an emergency proxy to contact the electoral services team at their local council.

Conservative MP Tom Hunt had to arrange an emergency proxy vote in the 2 May local elections after misplacing his photo ID.

Why have voter ID requirements been introduced?

The government says photo ID rules were introduced to tackle the electoral crime of ‘personation’, which is an offence under the Representation of the People Act 1983.

‘Personation’ is the technical term for when someone votes while pretending to be somebody else. It’s associated usually with voting in person, but can also apply to postal or proxy voting. Being found guilty of this offence can lead to an unlimited fine, as well as up to two years in prison and being disqualified from voting for five years.

The government says that requiring voters to show photo ID is “a reasonable and proportionate way to confirm that someone is who they say they are when voting, thus stamping out the potential for voter fraud to take place”. 

However, its introduction has proved controversial. Critics of the measure include Labour, the Liberal Democrats and campaign groups, who have argued there is little evidence of voter fraud taking place at a significant level during elections in the UK. 

There have also been warnings that voters could be left disenfranchised if they don’t hold a valid form of ID.

According to the House of Commons Library, there were 13 cases of alleged personation fraud recorded by police forces in 2022, seven of which involved allegations of personation in polling stations. No further action was taken in any of the cases involved.

Image courtesy of secretlondon123

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