Voting rights for all homeless urged

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Homeless people should be able to give their address as doorways, day centres or railway arches in order to vote, charities said yesterday.

Following a successful pilot project in Manchester, where one voter was registered at "Railway Arch, Little Peter Street", CHAR, the charity for the single homeless, and The Big Issue magazine yesterday launched a campaign to give the right to vote and stand for election to all homeless people and those living in temporary accommodation. They want a Private Member's Bill to be introduced this autumn to clear up discrepancies in how the law is interpreted.

The Representation of the People Act 1983 insists on a degree of permanence - usually six months - which most homeless people cannot show.

Sinead Hanks of The Big Issue said: "There are several different ways of interpreting this - for example, the Greenham Common women in 1986 were able to vote because they'd been somewhere for six months although they were trespassing."

A Home Office working party report in February 1994 said: "Being homeless does not preclude a person from qualifying for inclusion in the national register on grounds of residence ... the absence of bricks and mortar is not a handicap to qualification."

The project in Manchester was run to encourage the homeless to vote in local elections. CHAR says the electoral register compiled this autumn could be used in the general election.

They want the law to be changed so that homeless people could make a "declaration of locality", a system used by merchant seamen and British subjects abroad. This would mean the homeless could use a contact point such as council housing offices or day centres, avoiding the need for complicated postal or proxy voting.

CHAR's voting rights campaigner Paul Himsworth said: "It is unacceptable that homeless people are maligned with the accusation that they do not want to be a part of society, when in fact they are excluded by that society in the most basic of civil involvement."