Domestic abuse campaigners welcome anonymous voter registration scheme reforms
New measures have been announced to make it easier for survivors of domestic abuse to take part in elections.
Changes to the anonymous registration scheme will make it more straightforward for people to exercise the right to vote without compromising their safety.
The reforms, which could potentially help thousands of people in England and Wales, were welcomed by Women's Aid, who said it sent a signal to abuse survivors "that their voices matter".
The anonymous registration scheme protects people whose safety would be at risk if their name and address were entered on the electoral register.
But campaigners have criticised the scheme for lacking the flexibility to deal with domestic abuse cases because it requires court documents or the signature of a senior police officer or director of social services.
The reforms announced by Cabinet Office minister Chris Skidmore update the list of court and other orders which are acceptable as evidence of risk to the applicant and give more junior police officers and social services officials the ability to act as attestors.
The change follows a campaign led by abuse survivor Mehala Osborne, who had called for women living in safe houses to be able to exercise the right to vote.
She said: "I was denied a vote whilst living in a refuge, and I never realised how much having a vote meant until it was taken away from me.
"I had already been through enough, and to be disempowered even more was so difficult.
"I am so proud to have started the campaign that has led to these proposed changes.
"Survivors in the future will not be denied their voice and democratic right to vote."
Women's Aid chief executive Polly Neate said: "Domestic abuse must not deny women their right to take part in democracy.
"So, we welcome the changes proposed today on anonymous registration, and we thank the Government, particularly the minister Chris Skidmore, for decisive action on this.
"The proposed new measures send out a clear message to all survivors of domestic abuse that their voices matter, and their participation in politics matters."
Constitution minister Mr Skidmore said: "This Government is committed to removing any barriers that prevent voters from exercising their democratic right.
"Having met survivors of domestic abuse over the past six months, it is clear that the existing system has often let down those affected by domestic abuse.
"That is why today we are setting out proposals to reform the anonymous registration scheme in England and Wales to make it more accessible for those escaping domestic abuse.
"Protecting the safety of survivors by making it easier for them to register to vote without their name and address appearing on the electoral register is a key part of that change.
"We are clear that those who have been constrained by their abusers must have full freedom to express themselves in the democratic process. part of this Government's determination to build a democracy that works for everyone."