The UK government has fixed the ‘glitch’ that forced trans people to provide a previous name in order to register to vote.
Following a report by Gay Star News, the Cabinet Office has responded swiftly, ensuring only those who changed names in the past 12 months must provide their ‘dead name’.
While disclosure of previous names is not currently a legal requirement, legislation has been drafted to make it so.
In an attempt to understand more, GSN was invited to meet with officials at the Cabinet Office to discuss how the system worked, what it is trying to do, and how to ensure that trans needs and interests are fully taken into account in developing the system.
The starting point is the government has decided to strengthen measures to ensure only those who are entitled to be on the electoral register are on it. With processes both online and manual intended to achieve this, the system needs to confirm the identity of those who have changed address, or other personal details, since the last register was compiled.
Online, would-be voters are asked to provide their name, National Insurance number and date of birth. Information is then transmitted securely to the Department of Work and Pensions, who cross-match this data to information they hold. The result is sent back to local authorities.At this point, there are several possible outcomes: where there is a good match, and there is not any reason for the local authority to not register an individual, they will simply be added to the register.
But if they do not check out, the local authority may request additional documentary evidence or, if that is not possible, will seek to establish an individual’s identity by other means.
The Cabinet Office stressed the only information that goes back to a local authority is name and date of birth: in addition, current and previous names are only combined in the system temporarily, as they attempt to obtain a match to Department for Work and Pensions records.
Since setting up this process, they have identified a major source of difficulty lies in attempts to match surname: this is especially so where women have married, changed their name many years previously, and not interacted with the tax or benefits system since.
The obvious solution, to reduce the need for an individual to provide additional paper records, is for them to supply previous name data – even, on occasion, where this goes back 10 or 20 years. This goes well beyond provisions in the current system, which only requires previous name where an individual has changed their name in the last 12 months.
New legislation proposed by the Cabinet Office, in the form of statutory instrument, has therefore been drafted.
The change, contained as regulation 3 of The Representation of the People (England and Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2015 would, if passed, require individuals to provide all previous names when registering online.
The Cabinet Office explained the purpose of this amendment was wholly administrative and was intended to reduce the burden on individual applicants.
Helen Belcher, a member of the Parliamentary Forum on Gender Identity who was also present, argued even if no harm was intended, there would be many in the trans community who would not see it that way and would therefore not register to vote.
While she accepted the Cabinet Office had put in place significant security to prevent name data falling into the wrong hands, a key issue was the extent to which individuals trusted government to keep their data safe. Even if data remained safe within the IT systems being developed, there was an additional issue of people having to take additional documentation in to their local authority where they would effectively be outing themselves.
She also highlighted how many trans individuals would be humiliated and embarrassed at having to provide previous name details.
Speaking to Gay Star News, Belcher told us: ‘I believe that the Civil Service have acted with the best of intentions but they have also been naive in their execution.
‘Sometimes equalities and human rights issues do seem to get lost in the vastness of the Civil Service and I am not convinced that the government’s proposals here are a proportionate means to achieving a legitimate aim.’
A Deputy Prime Minister’s office spokesperson also commented: ‘It has absolutely never been our intention to disadvantage transgender individuals.
‘We will now be working with the trans community to ensure that any change to the law reflects their concerns.’
Individuals wishing to make their views about this draft legislation are encouraged to contact the Cabinet Office, write to their member of parliament, or write to the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg.