Anyone wishing to vote in a local, national or European election, or in a national referendum, in the UK must be registered to vote. By registering to vote you place yourself on something called the electoral register. If your name is not on the register, you cannot vote.
Requiring individuals to register to vote ensures that only those who are legally entitled to vote are able to do so, and it ensures that people do not abuse the system, for instance by casting more than one vote (or the allowed number of votes) in a particular election or referendum.
You can check whether you are on the electoral register by contacting your local Electoral Registration Office.
In England and Wales, you can register to vote from the age of 16. In Northern Ireland the minimum age is 17, and in Scotland it is 14.
The minimum age for voting in any kind of election in England, Wales and Northern Ireland is 18. In Scotland, the rules are slightly different. You may vote in Scottish Government elections from the age of 16, but must wait until you are 18 to vote in elections for the UK and European Parliaments.
Residents of the Isle of Man, Jersey, Guernsey and the Channel Islands are able to vote from the age of 16.
Anyone wishing to register to vote must also be a citizen of the UK or Republic of Ireland, or a citizen of a European Union country and living in the UK. Registration is also open to qualifying British Commonwealth citizens, that is, those who have leave to enter or remain in the UK, or do not require such leave.
A small number of people are not eligible to vote in UK elections. These include convicted prisoners serving their sentence and anyone convicted of corrupt practices in an election over the previous five years. Members of the House of Lords are not eligible to vote in a UK general election, but they can vote in local and European elections and in elections for the Welsh or Northern Ireland Assembly, or the Scottish Parliament.
You can register to vote in a number of ways:
Online, via the GOV.UK website; go to the home page, and enter register to vote in the search section. This service is not open to people living in Northern Ireland where registration can be made through the Electoral Office of Northern Ireland, eoni.org.uk.
By post, completing a voter registration form and sending it to your local electoral registration office. Voter registration forms are available from your local electoral registration office or downloadable from the Gov.uk website.
Over the telephone, with your local electoral registration office, who can take down the information that you provide.
When registering to vote, you will need your National Insurance number and, if you are a British citizen living abroad, your passport.
If you are registered to vote and a citizen of Britain or the Republic of Ireland, or a qualifying Commonwealth citizen, you may vote in all local, national or European elections, or referenda.
A general election – in which MPs are elected to Parliament – is held every five years. The next UK general election is due to take place in May, 2020.
However, if an MP dies or resigns, a local by-election will be called to choose their replacement. This normally takes place within three months of the seat becoming vacant.
Elections to the European Parliament also take place every five years. The next European election will be held in 2019.
The next elections to Scottish Parliament, the Welsh and Northern Ireland Assemblies, and the London Assembly are due to take place on the 5th May 2016.
The nationwide European referendum, in which people across the UK will vote on whether Britain is to leave or to remain a part of the European Union, is scheduled to take place in June 2016.
The frequency of elections for local government currently varies from one part of the country to another. Some voters can vote only once every four years, others may vote in an election every year.
Local council arrangements differ from area to area. In some areas, there are local mayors that are elected in separate elections and, in all areas, local people are invited to vote for a Police and Crime Commissioner for that area.