A reader writes:
My partner and I are not married, although we have been living together as man and wife for more than 15 years, and we each use different surnames. We are soon to move to the West Country and perhaps not unnaturally, when we have been visiting the area to view properties, hotel staff, estate agents and other people we have been dealing with have been addressing us as Mr and Mrs, with my husband’s surname.
We had a bit of a laugh about this, about how people in the small village we are moving to might react if they found out we weren’t married, and although we were of course joking, because we recognise that thousands of couples never marry – it is virtually the norm these days and hardly a scandal – it set me off thinking that I would like to change my name when we make the move.
My reasoning is that I’ve never really liked the name I’ve been using for the past couple of decades or more. Not only do I consider it an unattractive name but it is my ex-husband’s name, which I kept after our divorce only for the sake of the children.
I don’t really feel much love for my maiden name, either. I do, however, like my partner’s name, which is rather unusual, and even though we don’t for many personal reasons want to marry, I believe taking his name would signify my attachment to him.
Finally, we are embarking on a new stage in our lives with our move, and we both feel that a new name for me would be a symbol of a new start.
My questions are: how do I go about changing my name; what are the pitfalls and what do I need to do in respect of official documents and things like passports and bank accounts.
Annie Shaw replies:
In the UK you can call yourself anything you want and change your name at any time, provided you do not intend to deceive or defraud another person.
It is perfectly legal for you to be known by your partner’s surname – or anything else – if that is what you want.
As you have found with the estate agents and hotel staff you have been dealing with lately, on a day-to-day basis you might need to do no more than simply ask people to call you something different.
Getting legal recognition of your new name can be trickier and can cost money.
I note that you say that for “personal reasons” you don’t want to marry. Far be it from me to intrude into your private life, but before you investigate changing your name by any other means, can I ask you to review your objections to marriage?
Getting married can solve many of the headaches that people find they have when they just live together without tying the knot, ranging from inheritance and pension rights to property tenancies and benefits claims.
Getting organisations such as the passport office and your bank to change your name in its records is that much easier with a marriage certificate, so I’d be missing a very easy answer to your question if I didn’t ask you to take another look at your reservations about marriage.
Reverting to your maiden name is relatively simple, too, because you can simply produce the decree absolute that you obtained on your divorce and go back to your birth name.
However, let’s assume that you still definitely don’t want to marry your partner or go back to your maiden name, as you have stated, but you want to take your partner’s name.
Making a statutory declaration
You could make what is known as a statutory declaration, a simple statement recording your intention to abandon your old name and adopt a new one. You can prepare a statutory declaration yourself, or use a solicitor or other legal service to help you.
If you want to do one yourself, you may find this template useful.
The declaration will need to be witnessed by a solicitor other than the one who helped you prepare the declaration, or by a Justice of the Peace (JP).
Statutory declarations are not always accepted, so the next best thing to a marriage certificate to prove change of name is a Deed Poll. This is a more formal legal document, signed and dated by you and two witnesses, which contains the following three declarations:
- I will no longer use my previous name.
- I will use my new name at all times from now on.
- I require all persons to address me by my new name only.
You will need to sign the document in both your old and your new name.
You can draw up the Deed Poll yourself, using a form that you can obtain from the Ministry of Justice website, using a template declaration from a website such as freedeedpoll.org.uk, or by asking any solicitor, a legal services provider, such as Saga Legal Services, or a specialist agent to draw up the documents for you.
Using a professional company will cost you money, depending on the level of service you choose, but a fee is probably worth paying, as you are less likely to encounter problems when you try to use the document in future, such as when asking banks and officials to change their records to your new name. The company will give you certified copies of the Deed Poll and will be able to answer questions from inquiring authorities if necessary. Although perfectly legal, photocopies of a declaration that you have drawn up yourself are much less likely to pass muster with anti-fraud departments.
To comply with the law, once the deed poll takes effect, you must change the name on your driving licence immediately. It’s free, by filling in form D1 available on the DVLA website. If you have an old-style paper licence then you will need to send in a passport photo of yourself with the form, as your licence will be replaced with a new-style photo licence.
Find out about the new driving licence rules.
You should also arrange to get your name changed on your passport. This will cost £72.50 (£81.25 if you use the Post Office Check and Send Service), as you will need to renew it at the same time. While this seems quite expensive if you have only just got a new passport in your old name, your new passport will be extended by nine months to reflect the unexpired period on your old passport.
If you have already booked future travel in your old name you might like to wait to update your name on your passport until after your trip, as names on travel documents, such as airline bookings, must match the name on your passport. If you haven’t booked any foreign travel, it’s as well to get everything changed over as soon as possible even if your passport does still have a long time to run, as overseas travel with a passport and tickets in one name and other credentials such as credit cards in another could cause you problems.
Update records and inform organisations
Some agencies may try to charge you for updating certain records, such as a Land Registry entry, but you don’t need to use them or pay. Always check first to see if you can do the change yourself for free. For instance, you can change a Land Registry entry by filling in form AP1.
Changing your name with other official and public organisations, such as banks, hospitals, dentists, GP surgery, TV licensing, the local council, pensions service and utility companies, should be free on production of the correct documents. Some home and motor insurers may charge an administration fee for updating details.
Don’t forget to get your name changed on the electoral roll or you could be turned down for credit in your new name. Your credit history with the various credit reference agencies will be automatically updated to your new name once you have registered your name change with your bank and credit card companies.
When you notify your bank that you are changing your name, ask them about their policy on processing cheques in your old name. Most will accept cheques in your old name and credit them to your new account as long as the bank has both names on record. If you plan to move your account, or you generally use automated paying-in machines, it could be worth checking if there is a special procedure to follow if you are paid in your old name. You may need to visit a branch with documentation.
* Read Annie Shaw's money articles every month in Saga Magazine.