Changes to EU voting and candidacy rights – what you and your residents need to know

Who is eligible to vote at local elections is changing. Find out all you need to know here.

From 7 May 2024 (five days after the 2024 May elections), there will be changes to the voting and candidacy rights for EU citizens. This new requirement was introduced in the Elections Act 2022.

What will change?

EU Citizens currently have an automatic right to register to vote, to vote and stand in local election and police and crime commissioner (PCC) elections.

From 7 May, this automatic right will be removed for local elections in England and Northern Ireland and PCC elections in England and Wales, and elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Instead rights to stand and vote at local elections will be reserved only for some EU citizens.

Which EU citizens will still be able to stand and vote at local elections?

There are two groups of EU citizens who will still be eligible:

  • Qualifying EU citizens’: citizens from a country where there is a bilateral treaty on the voting and candidacy rights of its citizens. So far this includes five countries (Denmark, Poland, Spain, Portugal and Luxembourg). 
  • ‘EU citizens with retained rights’: those who already resident in the UK at the end of the Brexit Implementation Period (31/12/20) and who maintain lawful immigration status.

What does this mean in practice?

All local authorities that maintain electoral registers will need to complete a process of reviewing the eligibility of EU citizens on the electoral register once the legislation comes into force in May.

Anyone who is determined to have become ineligible will lose their voting rights.

What if I’m an EU citizens who is elected in May 2024?

EU citizens elected to office before the measures in the Act come into force can remain in office for their full term, irrespective of immigration status or whether they qualify under the new eligibility.

However, if EU citizens want to vote or stand in elections after 7 May 2024, they will need to be either a qualifying EU citizen or an EU citizen with retained rights.

Are there any exceptions to the rule?

Irish citizens’ rights are not affected by this rule change. This is because Irish citizens’ rights predate their EU membership. Similarly citizens of Malta and Cyprus are not affected because these are both Commonwealth countries, as well as being EU member states.