Voting is the main way many of us exercise our democratic rights in the UK, but trans people are being prevented from registering to vote in the general election, with the 22nd May registration deadline just days away.
Members of the trans community have reported being unable to register because their National Insurance number is ‘protected’ and can’t be processed, Gay Star News reported. It’s possible to register to vote without an NI number, but trans people say they've also encountered problems registering without one.
An NI number may be protected if a person is high risk, such as a high-profile individual or a crime victim, and trans people may ask for it if they want greater discretion about their trans status in their communications with HMRC, LGBT rights charity Stonewall says.
A trans person trying to register to vote in Wiltshire, southwest England, told Gay Star News they never asked for their NI number to be protected but the Tax Office went ahead and did it anyway.
Even after taking various forms of identity to their local county council office, including a passport and tenancy agreement, they were unable to get registered. The receptionist repeatedly told them they “just needed their national insurance number” and demanded to know why their number was protected, which the individual declined to explain.
A manager then repeated the receptionist’s line and said that even with the documents provided, they couldn’t help the individual without their NI number. As a result, the individual feels they are being punished for being trans, reported Gay Star News.
Another trans man told Metro.co.uk he was unable to register for the same reason. “You register to vote online – or at least I tried. When I put in my details and my new name that I changed a year ago, and when it got to the NI number part of the process every time I entered it, it said ‘this national insurance number has been protected’,” he said.
“So basically an error kept occurring where I needed to enter a different national insurance number, which I don’t have. When I think about it it is funny – because I still get taxed,” he added. “It feels like I’m not a person, it just feels like I’m less than everyone else.”
He suggested it wasn't in the government's interests to fix the problem, either, telling Metro.co.uk: "I would vote Labour, I don’t think many trans people being denied the right to vote would actually vote for the government that implemented this. I think it’s disgusting that nothing has been done, we’re all supposed to be equal but we’re not."
The Electoral Commission is aware of the issue and says it's up to local authorities to deal with it. "It is possible to register to vote without a National Insurance number and the Electoral Commission provides local authorities with comprehensive guidance that outlines the processes they should follow if an applicant does not supply them with one," a spokesperson told Metro.co.uk.
But trans people have reported that many councils don't know what to do when faced with the problem. People with protected NI numbers can register to vote anonymously, which requires evidence to support the application, but this may be difficult for trans people without a Gender Recognition Certificate or photo ID.
The government has reportedly known about the problem since just before the 2015 general election, and Cabinet Office officials promised to take it into account when devising future voter registration schemes, reported Gay Star News, but still nothing has been done.
Trans people may also have problems registering to vote if they have changed their name, e.g. by deed poll, and want to vote under their new name, particularly if the change was recent and they haven't yet informed HMRC, because their NI number may still be linked to their previous name, says Stonewall.