Local elections in England 2024 media guide

Local elections in England

This guide provides answers to key questions on the upcoming elections in England, relating to candidates, spending and donations, and the voting process. You can jump to different sections using the contents table. Click the questions to see answers.

What elections are taking place?

  • In 2024, there are local elections in 107 local authorities across England. There are also elections for nine combined authority mayoral elections and one local authority mayoral election. 
  • Local government elections (district, borough, county borough and unitary authority elections) will take place in local authorities across England. Voters will elect councillors, who make decisions on services in the local area. 
  • Local authority mayoral election in Salford. A local authority mayor is responsible for running the council. 
  • Combined authority mayoral elections in nine areas. Combined authorities are chaired by an elected mayor. Some combined authority mayors also hold police and crime commissioner functions.  

Spending and donation rules

The regulated period is the period in the run up to an election during which electoral spending rules apply to campaigning. The regulated period for these elections begins the day after someone officially becomes a candidate and ends on polling day, 2 May. 

The earliest someone can officially become a candidate is on 26 March.

Spending limits apply for the regulated period, and are different depending on the election:

  • For local government election candidates: £960 + 8p per local government elector registered to vote on the last day that the notice of election can be published in the ward where the candidate is standing. 
  • For local authority and combined authority mayoral election: pending approval by the UK Parliament, the spending limit will be £3,040 + 8p per registered elector in the local authority area in which the candidate is standing.

To assist candidates and agents in calculating their spending limit for the local government election, the local electoral registration officer will be able to provide candidates with the number of registered electors in the ward and, where needed, the number of constituent councils. 

Candidate spending includes, among other things, the costs of:

  • advertising of any kind, such as posters, newspaper adverts, websites or social media
  • unsolicited material sent to voters, such as letters, leaflets or emails that are not sent in response to specific queries

Activities that do not count include, among other things:

  • use of someone’s personal car or other means of transport acquired principally for that person’s personal use and provided free of charge
  • costs that are reasonably attributable to the candidate’s disability

Further information on which activities count towards the spending limit can be found in our guidance for candidates and agents.

It is the responsibility of the candidate’s agent (or the candidate if they act as their own agent) to fully and accurately report spending. Both the candidate and the agent should ensure they understand the rules and that all spending is properly authorised, recorded, and reported. Both the candidate and the agent must make a declaration that their reporting is accurate. Making this statement falsely is an offence.  

Exceeding the spending limit can be a criminal offence. Allegations relating to candidate spending offences are generally for the relevant local police force to consider.

Whilst the Electoral Commission has a statutory duty to monitor compliance with laws relating to candidate and agent expenses, we have no legal power to investigate and impose sanctions for these offences. 

A donation is money, goods, property or services given to a candidate, without charge or on non-commercial terms, and which has a value of over £50. 

Anything with a value of £50 or less does not count as a donation.

Candidates must only accept donations over £50 from permissible sources. This applies to cash donations and donations in kind. 

Donations that are not from a permissible source must be returned to the donor within 30 days. After that, the donation may be forfeited.

Permissible donors are, amongst others, individuals on a UK electoral register (including overseas electors), most registered UK companies, and UK-registered trade unions. The full list of permissible donors can be viewed in our guidance for candidate and agents.

Many political parties run a local ‘fighting fund’ for their candidate. If the fund is managed and controlled by the party and not the candidate, then donations to the fund are usually treated as having been made to the party and the agent does not need to treat them as donations to the candidate, unless the donations are specially made towards the candidate’s election campaign. 

However, candidates will need to report donations from the local party that are made for the purpose of meeting their campaign spending. 

Candidates can use crowdfunding websites to raise donations for their campaign. The candidate must know who the money comes from so that they can carry out the permissibility checks and ensure that there are measures in place to return donations that are from impermissible sources. 

The Commission has published guidance on crowdfunding donations and the rules on permissibility.

Details of the candidate’s spending and donations must be reported to the local returning officer, together with declarations from the agent and candidate confirming the return is complete and correct no later than 35 days after the election result is declared. 

If no spending is incurred, a nil return must be submitted by the candidate (or their agent).

Non-party campaigners are individuals and organisations that campaign in the run up to elections but do not stand as political parties or candidates.

Under candidate campaigning rules, where a non-party campaigner campaigns for or against one or more candidates in a particular constituency, ward or other electoral area, certain rules apply to spending on this activity within the regulated period. 

Local non-party campaigners can spend up to £50 plus 0.5p per local government elector during the regulated period on campaigning for or against a candidate in the ward. A local non-party campaigner cannot spend more than £50 plus 0.5p per elector without a candidate’s authorisation. 

Further information is in our guidance for candidates and agents

Voting in-person

Polling stations will be open between 7am and 10pm on Thursday 2 May. Voters should arrive in plenty of time to avoid missing out on having their say. Any voter who is in a queue at their polling station waiting to vote at 10pm will be able to vote. 

Voters will need to bring an accepted form of ID in order to vote. 

Before polling day, voters will be sent a poll card, which includes details of where their polling station is. Voters can only vote at the polling station specified on this card.  They don't need to bring it with them to the polling station, though doing so may speed up the voting process'

Anonymous voters must, however. bring their poll card to the polling station, in addition to their Anonymous Elector’s Document.

Polling station staff will be on hand to explain the ballot paper(s) and how to vote.

The law relating to obtaining information in polling stations and disclosing such information is complex, but we advise against taking selfies or other photos in the polling station, given the risks that this may be in breach of the law.

When a voter arrives at a polling station, a member of staff will:

  1. Ask their name and address so they can find them on the electoral register
  2. Ask for their photo ID, and check if it is acceptable
  3. If their ID is acceptable, they will give them their ballot paper and direct them to complete it at a polling booth as usual 

The Commission provides guidance to polling station staff, to help them make sure that polling stations are accessible to everyone. 

Changes introduced in the Elections Act permit disabled voters to choose anyone who is over 18 to accompany them in the polling station to help them vote. The Act also changes the assistance available at polling stations. 

We consulted charities and electoral administrators, before updating our accessibility guidance for administrators, to make sure that disabled voters can access the service they are entitled to in polling stations. Our guidance aims to support returning officers to understand and identify the barriers to voting faced by disabled voters. It sets out the equipment that should be made available as a minimum at the polling station, and what other equipment or support may also be helpful to provide. This should include measures such as a tactile voting device, polling booth at wheelchair level, magnifiers and pencil grips. Returning officers must have regard to this guidance.

Absent voting

Voters who can’t, or don’t want, to vote in a polling station can apply for a proxy vote. This means they ask someone they trust to vote on their behalf. Voters may apply for a proxy vote for a specific election, a specific period of time, or for all elections. They need to complete and sign a proxy application form and return it to their local electoral registration office by 5pm on Wednesday 24 April. Alternatively, they can apply online for some types of proxy vote. The person voting on their behalf (their proxy) will need to show an accepted form of ID at the polling station before they can vote. 

Changes from the Elections Act mean that voters can now act as a proxy for a maximum of only four people, only two of those can be people living in the UK. 
How to vote by post

If voters do not wish, or are unable, to go to a polling station, they may apply for a postal vote. Voters may apply for a postal vote for a specific election, a specific period of time, or for all elections. Postal votes in England can be granted for a maximum of three years before they must be renewed. They need to complete and sign a postal vote application form and return it to their local electoral registration office by 5pm on Wednesday 17 April. Alternatively, they can apply online.

Applications for a postal vote are required to include the applicants National Insurance number as well as their date of birth and signature. These are used to confirm the applicant’s identity. 

Postal voters have to provide their signature and date of birth when applying for a postal vote. When casting their postal vote, they are asked again for their signature and date of birth. Both records are compared and if the returning officer is not satisfied that they match, the ballot paper is not counted.

There are also now restrictions on who can handle postal voting documents. This includes returning them to a polling station or to the relevant returning officer. From May, voters will not be allowed to hand in more than five postal ballot packs per poll, in addition to their own. Anyone handing in postal votes to the polling station or the relevant returning officer will be required to complete a postal vote return form. 

It is now an offence for political campaigners to handle completed ballot papers or postal ballot packs for voters who are not their close family or someone they care for.

The Electoral Commission has updated its Code of Conduct for campaigners to reflect these changes, which applies to all political parties, candidates and their supporters.

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