Why can you use the 60+ Oyster card as voter ID, but not the 18+ Student Oyster card?

2 May 2023
What was claimed

The 60+ Oyster card counts as voter ID, but the 18+ Student Oyster card doesn’t, and this amounts to “voter suppression” or “election rigging”.

Our verdict

The two cards are treated differently because they have different application requirements—the 60+ Oyster card requires proof of age and address, while the 18+ Student Oyster card doesn’t. The government has also said the 60+ Oyster card is valid despite having lower security than major forms of ID to “cater to” demographics less likely to have other ID. Some research suggests those aged 70+ are slightly less likely to have photo ID than those aged 18-29.

The 2023 local elections are the first in England to require all voters to show a form of photo ID in order to vote.

The introduction of voter ID has been the subject of significant controversy since it was passed into law last April. 

The government says that voter 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 critics of the measure, including Labour and the Liberal Democrats, say there is little evidence of voter fraud taking place at a significant level during elections in the UK, and warn voters could be left disenfranchised if they don’t hold a valid form of ID.

On social media, much of the attention has been focused on what specific forms of ID are and aren’t allowed. 

In particular, we’ve seen lots of posts on Facebook, many of which include screenshots of posts on Twitter, sharing a graphic which shows the 60+ Oyster card (which offers holders free travel on some public transport in London) counts as an accepted form of voter ID, while the 18+ Student Oyster card (which offers holders discounted travel in London) doesn't. Some have claimed this amounts to “election rigging” or “voter suppression”. Others have simply asked why the two Oyster cards are treated differently

The graphic in question appears to be taken from an article shared by the Electoral Reform Society (which is linked to in one of the tweets being shared as a screengrab on Facebook), published in November 2022. 

It is true that the 60+ Oyster card can be used as a form of voter ID, while the 18+ Student Oyster card can’t. However many of the posts we’ve seen lack important context, because they fail to explain that the two Oyster cards have different application requirements. 

The government says the 18+ Student Oyster card, which doesn’t require applicants’ passport or driving licence details, “does not have a suitably secure application process” for it to be used as voter ID. The 60+ Oyster card does require applicants’ passport or driving licence details or other proof of age and address, and has been described by the government as having a more “rigorous” process.

We’ve seen a lot of claims circulating about voter ID and voter fraud recently. Misleading or unclear claims about voting and elections have the potential to affect people’s trust in the political process and how they choose to vote.

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How the Oyster card application requirements differ

The government says that the 18+ Student Oyster card is not accepted as a form of voter ID because it “does not have a suitably secure application process for it to be used as photographic identification at polling stations”, whereas the 60+ Oyster card “has more rigorous processes”.

As part of the application process for the 60+ Oyster card, applicants are asked to provide, among other things, “details from your valid, machine-readable passport or your valid UK driving licence (full or provisional)”.

Alternatively, applicants can “print a verification letter and take it to a Post Office in London with proof of your age and address”. Proof of age in this case can be provided using a valid passport or driving licence, ID card from a European Economic Area country, medical card, birth certificate or biometric residency permit. There are a number of different ways you can show proof of address, for instance with a recent residential utility bill or bank statement.

By comparison, the 18+ Student Oyster card does not require applicants to provide details from a passport or UK driving licence, or other proof of age or address (though applicants are asked to provide a London borough address). Instead, applicants must provide a “student enrolment ID from your school, college or university”.

There are some forms of student ID which are accepted as voter ID, including any student card which is PASS accredited—that is, part of the National Proof of Age Standards Scheme—such as the NUS Totum card.

The government has acknowledged that the 60+ Oyster card has a confidence score of two (based on a report produced by the Electoral Commission on voter ID pilot schemes in England in 2019), which is lower than some other forms of ID such as driving licences and passports. But it says that the 60+ Oyster card has been included as a valid form of voter ID as part of efforts to “cater to those demographics who are slightly less likely to have these major forms of identification [like a passport or driving licence]”. We’ve more below on how many people currently have some form of photo ID.

The Electoral Commission confirmed to Full Fact that it has not conducted any broader confidence assessment for forms of ID which were not included in the pilots (such as the 18+ Student Oyster card). We’ve asked Transport for London if it has produced any assessments of the security of identity verification checks for the 60+ Oyster and 18+ Student Oyster cards and will update this fact check if we hear back.

When we contacted Dr Kit Yates, a senior lecturer at the University of Bath, whose tweet sharing the graphic has been shared widely on Facebook, about the comparison, he told us that the Electoral Reform Society “campaigned for student IDs, library cards, bank statements and other accessible forms of ID accepted at polling stations, but this amendment was repealed by the government leaving younger people with relatively fewer forms of ‘valid’ voting identification”. He added: “To me this feels a lot like voter suppression.”

It is true that an amendment to the Election Bill was passed in the House of Lords which would have extended the list of valid voter ID, but this was later overturned in the House of Commons.

Dr Yates also noted that his tweet linked to the Electoral Reform Society’s blog post, which did include further context about the 60+ Oyster card application requirements. (It said that a passport is required to get a 60+ Oyster card—though as outlined above, there are alternative ways for applicants to prove their age and address, and the blog post did not further explore the difference between the two application processes.) Many of the other posts we’ve seen did not provide a link to any further detail.

We’ve contacted the Electoral Reform Society about the graphic and will update this article if it responds.

What about the 16-25 Railcard?

Oyster cards aren’t the only form of ID we’ve seen questions about on social media—we’ve also seen some people question why the 16-25 Railcard isn’t considered valid, given online applicants aged 16-25 must provide “a passport, UK driving licence or EEA national identity card”.

The government has said it “does not believe this would be an appropriate form of identification, as it is insufficiently secure”. 

When we asked the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, which was responsible for drawing up the list of accepted voter ID, it did not respond. However, in response to a parliamentary question from Conservative MP Michael Fabricant last week, levelling up minister Dehenna Davison MP said: “Young person's railcards are generally offered in both digital and hard copy formats and, although it is intended that digital formats may be accepted [in] future, the government did not specifically include digital format documents for the roll out of the policy, in order to support its effective delivery.”

She added: "Allowing the hard copy version of a young person's railcard but not a digital version could lead to voter confusion.”

It is worth noting that mature students can also apply for a one-year 16-25 Railcard. To do so they must provide either an NUS card or a college or university photo ID, but it is unclear from the Railcard website if they must also provide a passport, driving licence or EEA national identity card as well. We’ve asked National Rail about this and will update this fact check if we receive a response. 

How many people don’t have voter ID?

According to the House of Commons Library, estimates for the number of people who are eligible to vote but don’t have a pre-existing form of ID accepted for voting range from 925,000 to 3.5 million.

The most recent research conducted by the Electoral Commission in February 2022 found that 4% of people in Britain—equivalent to around 1.9 million voters—did not have any of the pre-existing forms of photo ID required to vote. (Meanwhile older research published by the Electoral Commission in 2015 suggested as many as 3.5 million people might not have any of the forms of photo ID it recommended.)

A survey of 7,500 people over the age of 18 eligible to vote in England, Scotland and Wales, conducted on behalf of the Cabinet Office in 2021, found approximately 98% held one of the forms of photo ID which were under consideration to become a required form of voter ID. According to the House of Commons Library, this figure would equate to around 925,000 voters not holding any form of photo ID.

However, the 98% figure includes people who said they held photo ID which had expired, or had a photo which was no longer recognisable. The Cabinet Office survey found that only 91% of people said they had photo ID which was both in-date and recognisable (according to the Electoral Commission you can still use out-of-date photo ID as voter ID, so long as it is still recognisable as you).

The survey also found that younger people were slightly more likely than the general population to hold a form of photo ID, with 99% of those aged 18-29 holding a form of photo ID, compared to 98% of those aged 70 plus.

There were also differences in the likelihood of people having photo ID based on ethnicity, disability, employment status and voting history, among other factors.

Those who do not have a valid form of photo ID are able to apply for a free Voter Authority Certificate, though the deadline for doing this ahead of the upcoming local elections in England has now passed. Around 85,000 people applied online for a certificate ahead of the deadline, according to government figures

Image courtesy of Pexels

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