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BREXIT VOTE

EUROPEAN UNION

Brits: don’t let bumbling councils steal your vote

British electoral authorities have a terrible record when it comes to processing overseas ballots. Laura Shields says Brits abroad need to pile on the pressure - now.

Brits: don't let bumbling councils steal your vote
A pro-EU campaigner hands out leaflets in London. Photo: Justin Tallis/AFP
Councils in the UK have form on messing up when it comes to expat voter registration. 
 
I have personally heard stories of Brits abroad who received their postal ballots weeks after last year’s British General Election because the relevant council not only sent the papers out just four days before the election but also marked overseas post with second class UK stamps. I have also heard how authorised proxies were denied the right to vote on behalf of overseas friends or relatives because the polling station had no record of the request being made. Other Brits living in Portugal and wishing to vote in the forthcoming EU Referendum have had no acknowledgment that their registration request has even been received.
 
Meanwhile, the 16th May  ‘deadline’ for expats to register to vote in the Referendum is looming.
 
This is not about whether you think it’s right that Brits abroad should retain voting rights in the UK. That argument is still being thrashed out as I type. And not all councils are inefficient about registration: many do a very good job with few resources.  Rather, this is about making the current system work, at least for those who are still eligible. 
 
So what’s to be done? Quite simply, if you want to vote in the EU Referendum you should check in with your local council straight away (and certainly before the 16th May deadline).  If you haven’t registered to vote (and have been registered in the UK within the past 15 years), you should do so now, ideally by proxy or postal vote (although these are far less reliable).  If you’ve picked the postal vote option, you should also ask when the papers will be sent out and keep in touch to make sure you receive them in good time. 
 
Crucially, the Electoral Commission says Brits abroad don't need to re-register every year, but they do need to declare with their local authority that they are still eligible to vote. This means that all Brits abroad who want to vote on 23rd June should contact their local authority to check if they are still considered eligible by them. Each local authority has different rules for making a declaration. Some accept a phone call, others require letters, formal proof etc. In practical terms this means if a local authority has not proactively sought to check, you will likely not be able to vote, until you resubmit a declaration.
 
Unlike other elections, in the case of the EU Referendum, every vote really does count. The polls show those wishing Britain to 'Remain' and those wanting us to 'Leave' are level-pegging again. So Brits abroad who want to vote need to make sure that we keep the pressure up to exercise our democratic rights. 
 
We can’t take anything for granted. Particularly, not the post.
 
Laura Shields is Campaign Spokesperson for Brits Abroad: Yes to Europe, a non-partisan 'get out the vote' initiative managed by the Brussels and Europe Liberal Democrats. The campaign has a Facebook page with up-to-date news about the debate. More information on the Brussels and Europe Lib Dems referendum campaign and practical advice about voting can be found by clicking here.
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BANKING

Banking giant Barclays to close all accounts of Brits living in Spain

UK nationals living in Spain have begun to receive letters from their bank telling them that their accounts will be closed, in an apparent post-Brexit change. Have you been affected?

Banking giant Barclays to close all accounts of Brits living in Spain

Customers of Barclays Bank who are living in Spain and other EU countries have been receiving letters telling them that their UK accounts will be closed by the end of the year. 

A number of readers of The Local’s network of news websites have contacted us to report receiving either letters or messages in their online banking telling them that their accounts would be closed because of their residency in Spain or in other countries in the EU.

A Barclays spokesperson told The Local: “As a ring fenced bank, our Barclays UK products are designed for customers within the UK.

“We will no longer be offering services to personal current account or savings customers (excluding ISAs) within the European Economic Area. We are contacting impacted customers to give them advance notice of this decision and outline the next steps they need to take.”  

Customers are being given six months to make alternative arrangements. The changes affect all personal current accounts or savings accounts, but do not affect ISAs, loans or mortgages.

During the Brexit transition period Barclays closed Barclaycard accounts of customers in Spain, but did not indicate any changes to standard bank accounts.

READ MORE: 

Around the same time several other British high street banks began closing accounts of British customers who live in the EU, although with the exception of Barclaycard customers in Spain who were largely spared.

Many UK nationals who live in Spain maintain at least one UK bank account – in addition to a Spanish account – sometimes just for savings but others use their accounts regularly to receive income such as pensions or income from rental property or – for remote workers – to receive income for work done in the UK.

Not having a UK bank account can make financial transactions in the UK more complicated or incur extra banking fees.

READ MORE: What are the best UK banks for Brits in Spain?

Since Brexit, the UK banking sector no longer has access to the ‘passporting’ system which allows banks to operate in multiple EU countries without having to apply for a separate banking licence for each country.

And it seems that many UK high street banks are deciding that the extra paperwork is not worth the hassle and are withdrawing completely from certain EU markets. 

When British banks began withdrawing services from customers in the EU back in 2020, a UK government spokesman told British newspaper The Times that “the provision of banking services is a commercial decision for firms based on a number of factors” so Brits in Spain probably shouldn’t hold their breath for any help from that direction.

READ ALSO: Premium Bond holders in Spain may have to cash in if no UK bank account

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