FOI Request - Looked After Children Registering to Vote
What action has the local authority taken (or does it intend to take) to exercise its corporate parenting responsibilities to assist a young person who is or has been a looked after child in respect of his or her entitlement to register for a vote in the Referendum on Scottish Independence?
The Scottish Independence (Franchise) Act 2013 introduced the entitlement for a young person who ‘has attained the age of 16, or will attain that age on or before the date on which the poll at an independence referendum is to be held’ (5.1(c)) to register for a vote.
In the case of young people who are looked after, or are ‘care leavers’, the local authority has responsibilities (a) to assist in the process of registering to vote, and (b) to provide access to any information the young person needs in order to exercise his or her democratic entitlements.
Young people’s needs for support will be varied. A young person attending school or college should have access to non-partisan educational materials about the democratic process in general and about the Referendum in particular. A young person in employment, seeking work, or volunteering may not have ready access to such materials.
The requirement to provide an address in order to register to vote may pose challenges for looked after young people, particularly those without a stable address. The Act anticipates such cases by making provision (at 7.4) such that ’“the required address” for the purposes of section 7B of the 1983 Act is any address in Scotland at which the person has previously been resident.’
A young person living in a local authority children’s home, or in a purchased placement in a children’s home managed by an external provider, should have the option to be included in an electoral registration form sent to the residence (requiring action by the head of establishment), or to register at a previous address.
A young person living at a residential school or secure unit may be content to register to vote at that address, or may prefer to use a previous address, such as the parental home. Similarly, a young person living in foster care or supported lodgings may have been included in the return made by the head of household, or may not have been included. It is possible for a young person to register to vote in more than one location.
Where a young person is living at an ‘out of authority’ placement but chooses to register at a previous address, exercising the right to vote will involve travelling to the previous location, potentially with assistance. In some cases, registering for a postal vote may be appropriate.
A looked after young person with a disability may require additional support both to register and to vote.
A young person who is looked after ‘at home’ (i.e. subject to a compulsory supervision order with no condition of residence),or who is in kinship care, should be assisted by their family. Nonetheless, corporate parenting responsibilities include confirming that support is available and offering alternative support, if required.
A looked after young person who is currently serving a prison sentence is not entitled to register for a vote, but if the young person is liberated prior to the cut-off date for registration (midnight of 3 September 2014) registration can be arranged upon release. There are no restrictions to registering placed on those remanded in prison.
Young people can register to vote independently, for example, by downloading a form from the website www.aboutmyvote.co.uk<http://www.aboutmyvote.co.uk/> and posting the completed and signed form to the relevant registration officer.
There is a dialogue between local authorities responsible for LACs and EROs. The issue may be that LAC can be more mobile than the general population, and as such, planning is concerned with seeking and ensuring accurate details for LACs during the period from April to the beginning of September 2014.