The housing crisis is the issue cited by Londoners as the most important one for the future Mayor to tackle. However, some people who would like to vote for a candidate that has promised real changes, such as the London Renters Union promised by the Green Party candidate, Sian Berry, are denied the right to vote because of the housing crisis already – and I have found myself being one of them.
I have lived in London for almost five years now and as a Polish national living and working in London, I am allowed to vote in the upcoming London Mayoral Elections on 3rd May. The only thing I would have to do to is to register online on the British Government website, like any other British national, a process which takes only about five minutes. It turned out, however, that for some people registering to vote might not be that easy, especially if you’re a part of the Generation Rent like me.
After receiving the initial letter from my local Electoral Registration Officer confirming my registration in late November 2015, I was then informed two weeks later that I am no longer able to vote. As my Electoral Registration Officer explained in a letter, “[they] have been informed” that I no longer live at the address. The (not so) funny thing is, that I actually do live there until now. The letter has also given me the option to appeal against the decision within 14 days in writing, after which I would be scheduled an official hearing.
I’m renting a room in a house owned by a small estate agency managed by three people and I’m guessing the mysterious body that “informed” the Electoral Register Office was my landlords. I didn’t do anything about it as to be fair, I was worried that if I say something, I will be kicked out. I was just not up for looking for a new flatshare – with all the stories about speed flatmating, competitions for the tenants-to-be and after seeing some places that I wouldn’t live in even if someone paid me to, looking for a new home seemed like an unhuman toll, especially while doing a final year at a university.
Over the last ten years, the housing bubble has led to a 25 per cent increase of homes with six tenants or more. Most contributing to it are families, where increasingly often adult children are living with parents, sometimes until they are in their 30s, and also migrants who cannot afford renting a house or just simply want to save money, or young people coming to London to study or look for career opportunities (ticked two out of three, lucky me). This leads to situations just like mine. Landlords don’t want to admit how many people live in their houses, as often they are illegally overcrowding their properties. As a result, less affluent people are not allowed to vote, and the rich vote for their candidates.
The changes to the electoral registration system, which were implemented in December 2015, instead of the previously planned December 2016, are not helping either. Now, especially a lot of young people, such as students who previously were automatically registered by student halls, will be denied the right to vote if they don’t do it individually. And let’s face it – that will make already disengaged young voters even more reluctant. The deadline for registering to vote at the London Mayoral Elections is on the 18th of April. My guess is that some people will only realise that they need to register after the date or will just decide it’s too much hassle.
Is this a move made on purpose by the current government, I shall not guess, but I shall use it as a motivation to do everything I can to make sure I am registered before the 18th of April and able to vote for Sian Berry on the 3rd of May. The London Renters Union proposed by Sian could have prevented a situation just like mine and if brought to life, could potentially empower a lot of tenants who right now have no genuine rights. And even if we don’t get a Green Mayor of London this time round yet, voting for Sian will be one of the ways to send the message to everybody out there that action on this ridiculous housing bubble is needed and that the people of London want a change.
by Marta Zając