#ELLGE19: In marginal seats, registering to vote is vital – even if your address is NFA

Homelessness charity Shelter reported that the number of rough sleepers in Croydon has doubled since 2014 Pic: Blodeuwedd

To register to vote you need your national insurance number and home address, right? Wrong! If you live without a fixed address, you can register to vote as No Fixed Abode (NFA), and with hours left before the deadline at 11:59, campaigns were today trying to spread the word that homelessness is not a barrier to voting.

As of estimates by Shelter in 2018, there are 5,762 people in Croydon who are homeless or living at a temporary address. That makes one in every 67 inhabitants of the borough without a permanent home.

Nicola Evans with food donations. Pic Evie Breese

While the Croydon North and Croydon South constituencies have been strong holds for Labour and Conservative respectively, Croydon Central is a key swing seat. Labour’s Sarah Jones won in 2017 scraping a majority with 5,652 votes.

With Croydon’s homeless population largely concentrated in the centre and the north of the borough, statistically their votes could make all the difference. 

Homeless charity Crisis have sought to spread the word that a permanent address is not a prerequisite to voter registration. Those without a fixed residence can complete a “declaration of local connection”, otherwise known as an NFA, to be returned to the electoral registration office. In Croydon this can be found at the Town Hall.

The form allows the person to give details of where they spend a lot of  time and could include a day service, night shelter, or an address near to a park bench or bus shelter. Around the country various establishments have stepped up to offer their address for people without a permanent home to use, including a Bristol brewery and Brighton burger bar.

Voter registration forms for people without an address are available from the .gov website. Pic: Evie Breese

For the past six years, Nicola Edwards, 57, who works in administration, has spent one night per week handing out hot food with charity Croydon Nightwatch. The group, made entirely of volunteers, goes out every night to Queen’s Gardens in the centre of town with hot soup and food, sleeping bags, clothing and grocery packages on Sundays.

Eastlondonlines joined Edwards and her team of five last night to ask how their clients are going to engage in the election.

“I’m ready for the 12th!” said Derek, 40, who grew up in Croydon and is currently staying in temporary accommodation. “I went to the Town Hall and told them I want to vote. They gave me the forms and I filled them out.”

Derek explained that he uses the computers at his accommodation or at cyber cafes regularly: “I look on Yahoo News and at what the parties are saying.”

Registered in Croydon North, Derek plans on voting to keep in his Labour PPC. “Steve Reed is one politician who delivers. From someone like myself, in my position and who talks to a lot of people, I know Steve is a person who you go to his office and talk to him and he’ll help fix it.”

Despite the best efforts of charities and the council to spread the message, the NFA registration process is still not well known.

Food to be given out by Croydon Nightwatch volunteers to those in need at Queen’s Gardens. Pic Evie Breese

Daniel, 41, who has been without a fixed address for a year and a half, told Eastlondonlines: “I thought, ‘I want to vote, and I wouldn’t be able to put my vote in. So I was like, maybe next year when I get my own place and an address then I can vote.’” Daniel continued: “It’s a good thing you told me this! That’s wicked!”

Edwards explained how she had recently received an email from the Conservative candidate for Croydon South, Chris Philp: “[The email] said how well Croydon’s doing with homelessness. And I replied to him, and I’ve never replied to something like that before in my life, and I said ‘I want you to come down to Queen’s Gardens and see how homelessness really is in Croydon.’”

“It was like he was bragging about it, and I said, ‘you don’t really know!’”

Research by the Electoral Commission has found that 9.4 million people, equal to 17 per cent of eligible voters, were either missing from the electoral register or not registered at their current address.

It highlighted stark differences in registration levels between younger people, renters, low-income and black and ethnic minority people, compared with older white people who more traditionally own their homes.

Croydon Nightwatch are always in need of tinned food, soup or other food with a long shelf life. Donations can be left at Friends Meeting House Croydon, between 8:30pm and 9:30pm any evening.

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