Nurses and midwives will be able to support people who have experienced domestic abuse to vote anonymously during elections following a change in law this month.
They are among a group of professionals who are now legally able to provide an attestation, stating a person would be at risk if they were unable to vote without revealing their name and address on the electoral register
“We support this legislation to help individuals and survivors of domestic abuse to access their right to vote”
Previously only professionals such as a director of social services or superintendent in the police could act as a qualifying officer and provide an attestation.
The Royal College of Nursing said it welcomed the change, which comes under the Representation of the People (England and Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2018, and would be producing guidance for nurses about their ability to act as a qualifying officer.
The new legislation came into force in England, Wales and Northern Ireland last week, on 7 March, and will become effective in Scotland on 1 April.
Ministers said they believed the change would make it easier for an estimated 12,000 survivors of domestic abuse living in refuges to register to vote anonymously - as well as those living elsewhere.
The amendment also mean a greater range of court orders can be provided as evidence when applying for anonymous registration, such as those relating to female genital mutilation domestic violence protection.
Chloe Smith, minister for the constitution, said: “It’s simply unacceptable that fear of revealing their address to an ex-partner has stopped victims of domestic abuse from voting.
“Which is why this government took decisive action and is making it easier for those at risk to register and vote anonymously.”
Katie Ghose, chief executive of charity Women’s Aid, said: “For too long survivors of domestic abuse have been silenced because it was too dangerous for them to sign up to an electoral register, which would reveal their location, and too difficult for them to register anonymously.
“Following our Right to Vote campaign in partnership with survivor Mehala Osborne, we have worked with the government to bring about decisive action on this issue.”
“The RCN recommends that healthcare professionals are prepared and feel competent to carry out the role”
Carmel Bagness, RCN professional lead for midwifery and women’s health, said: “We support this legislation to help individuals and survivors of domestic abuse to access their right to vote.
“We are working to create guidance for nurses and midwives to carry out this role as qualifying officer.”
“The RCN recommends that healthcare professionals are prepared and feel competent to carry out the role, and the judgement used to support the attestation will be based on the therapeutic relationship with the patient/client,” she added.
“Ensuring people can vote safely, should be a priority for everyone. It will not be mandatory for nurses and midwives to attest a person’s right to register anonymously and if they have any concerns about an individual who may be at risk they should always follow local safeguarding procedures and contact their safeguarding lead, as necessary,” said Ms Bagness.