Posted: Sun 19th Nov 2023

Second home ownership ‘loophole’ opens door for questionable Senedd candidacies

News and Info from Deeside, Flintshire, North Wales
This article is old - Published: Sunday, Nov 19th, 2023

Concerns have been raised about a “loophole” that would allow second home owners to stand for election to the Senedd.

Under the Senedd Cymru (Members and Elections) bill, anyone on the electoral register in Wales would qualify to be a candidate. 

James Evans, for the Conservatives, questioned electoral administrators about the potential for candidates to game the system.

The Brecon and Radnorshire MS said: “Somebody could have a second home in Wales – be very lucky to afford one – and put that down as the address they register to vote at.

“They could live all their time in London or another part of the UK but, theoretically, they’d be on the electoral roll in Wales so they’d actually be eligible to stand in the Senedd election.

“I’m interested in your thoughts on that and how you think that could be mitigated in a way because it is a way of somebody finding a loophole around the system.”

During the previous Senedd term, Neil Hamilton, a former UKIP MS, represented Mid and West Wales despite living in Wiltshire. 

Public trust

Former Chief Executive of Flintshire County  Council Colin Everett, now chair of the Wales Electoral Coordination Board, told the Senedd’s reform committee: “Providing that the registration of the second home as well as the first was within the law for registration then legally that would not be improper.

“That might not be the spirit of what’s being looked for in the legislation.”

Mr Everett cautioned that someone using a second home to quality could lead to the elector losing trust and confidence.

Stressing that it’s not a matter for the board, he said: “On the face of the bill, if somebody is registered at that address, it’s within Wales, it’s current and legal then they qualify.

“I would suggest that’s more for how parties think about how they advise their candidates about public confidence in them.”

Mr Evans, standing in for Conservative colleague Darren Millar, added: “Halfway through a Senedd term, someone could say ‘I’m going to go and move to somewhere in England … but actually I’ll register my mother’s or friend’s address and I’ll say I’m staying there’.”

Mr Everett said in a previous police and crime commissioner election in Wales, somebody used a family member’s address and it led to public challenge.

“We had to consider legally whether it was valid and it was, and there wasn’t an election petition,” he told committee members. ”That echoed really the way public sentiment can feel – even if somebody has qualified legitimately under the law.”

‘Closed list’

David Rees, who chairs the reform committee, raised concerns about how this would work under the bill’s proposed “closed-list” system.

The Labour MS for Aberavon explained: “Those local issues of that particular candidate may be lost as the candidate may be number two or three on the list.

“People may not realise what they’re voting for because you’re voting for a party, not necessarily an individual.“It’s possible in the current system … that voters may not be aware of that.”

Mr Everett pointed out that candidates will need to provide their address as part of their nomination paperwork, saying: “If that’s not disclosed, the public might not be aware.

“But local knowledge is local knowledge, isn’t it?”

 Practicalities

Clare Sim, of the Association of Electoral Administrators, said it is a long-standing principle that people can temporarily be at an address yet still be able to register.

During the meeting on Wednesday November 15, she told MSs that any changes could impact student registration.

Ms Sim said: “It’s a long, 50-year precedent that people are allowed to have more than one address, provided they can show some degree of permanence.

“It’s always been a difficult thing for an administrator when they get people who want to register at an address if they say it’s a second home as to what test you apply to that.

“While I can understand what the concerns are and how people could potentially use that as a loophole, in the wider registration context it’s such an established principle.”

By Chris Haines, ICNN Senedd reporter

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