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A Magazine for Sheffield

How to vote if you're sectioned or on a psychiatric ward

75% of psychiatric in-patients didn't vote in the last general election, but you’re probably allowed to by law and should be enabled to do so. We’ve got the details you need.

On the left of the screen is a large blue and white sign announcing the entrance to the Northern General Hospital. On the right is some trees and a queue of traffic including an ambulance.

Entrance to the Northern General Hospital


The more marginalised a person is, the more important it is that they are enabled to have their say – should they want to – in the fast-approaching general election. For people who are in-patients on a psychiatric ward, putting their cross in the box of their choice of MP can be trickier than it ought to be.

However, while many people believe that those on a section (involuntarily detained on a mental health ward) are not allowed to vote, this is not usually the case. Even those who know that’s not accurate don’t know how people who cannot leave their ward would be able to cast their vote.

According to Inclusion London, “over 75% of psychiatric inpatients did not vote during the 2019 general election”. For that reason, Now Then have decided to provide a guide for in-patients on mental health wards to voting in Sheffield next Thursday.

A Polling Station sign by an old brick wall with cherry blossom above it.

Polling Station, Woodseats, Sheffield

Paul Walker

So, the facts you need to know about mental health and voting:

  • You do have the right to vote if you are under a:
    • Mental Health Act Section 2 (Admission for assessment)
    • Mental Health Act Section 3 (Admission for treatment)
    • Mental Health Act Section 35 (Remand to hospital for report on accused’s mental condition)
    • Mental Health Act Section 36 (Remand of accused person to hospital for treatment)
    • Mental Health Act Section 48 (Removal to hospital of other prisoners)
  • You do not have the right to vote if you are under a:
    • Mental Health Act Section 37 (Hospital Order)
    • Section 38 (Interim Hospital Order)
    • Mental Health Act Section 45a (Hospital Direction)
    • Mental Health Act Section 47 (Removal to hospital of persons serving sentences of imprisonment)
  • Voluntary / informal in-patients can leave the ward to cast their vote

An important question is who to vote for, and BBC podcast Access All took a look at what the seven main parties have to say on mental health in this episode with Fazilet Hadi from Disability Rights UK, Sam Carlisle from Disabled Children’s Partnership; and Nil Guzelgun from mental health charity Mind.

Sheffield City Council’s election team told Now Then:

  • If the voter admits themselves voluntarily, on a short-term admission, they can remain registered from their home address
  • If the person voluntarily admitted themselves to a psychiatric ward and remains there long enough to be considered a resident, they can register to vote at that establishment
  • In either example, a person can apply for a postal or proxy vote
  • Should the voter be allowed to leave the ward, subject to where they are allowed to go to by staff, they can vote in person
  • If the person was detained in hospital under the civil provisions of the Mental Health Act, they can apply for a proxy vote using their home address
  • Anyone who is detained for the purposes of serving a sentence due to a criminal conviction cannot register to vote whether they are detained in a prison or a mental health hospital

The council also highlighted the deadlines for applying for proxy and postal votes, both of which have now passed.

Now Then also approached Sheffield Health and Social Care (SHSC), who run Sheffield’s mental health services, to ask how they were planning to enable in-patients, especially those on a section, to vote. SHSC said they had provided staff with a briefing, but would not show this to us.

However, Jamie Middleton, the trust’s Head of Mental Health Legislation, Human Rights and Chaplaincy, told me that service users had been provided with information sheets “which explained who can, and cannot, vote, how to register to vote, what identification is needed to vote, and how to apply for postal or proxy voting."

Middleton said,

We are working to make sure all rights for our service users are both promoted and protected, and this includes the right of people to vote. It is for this reason that information to support both staff and service users was sent to all staff at our trust.

We also recognise that being able to vote is an important part of being able to contribute to, and feel part of, a wider society. It is only right that we support our service users to the best of our ability to still be part of a democratic society despite the barriers which may be present when a person is unwell and in hospital.

Inpatient services have been reminded that if a service user who is detained in hospital would like to vote in person, consideration should be given to granting them leave.

Inclusion London has produced an Easy Read guide to voting for Autistic patients, patients with learning disabilities and patients with severe mental illness in hospital or in the community under the Mental Health Act.

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