Guidance for (Acting) Returning Officers administering a UK Parliamentary election in Great Britain

Guidance for (Acting) Returning Officers administering a UK Parliamentary election in Great Britain

The following guidance has been produced to support (Acting) Returning Officers ((A)ROs) in Great Britain in planning for and delivering a UK Parliamentary election. It has been written to cover both general and by-elections.

It has been developed in close consultation with colleagues across the electoral community including the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives (SOLACE), the Association of Electoral Administrators (AEA), the UK Electoral Coordination and Advisory Board (ECAB), the Elections, Registration and Referendums Working Group (ERRWG), the Electoral Management Board of Scotland (EMB), and the Welsh Electoral Practitioners Working Group (WEPWG).

It reflects the (A)RO’s legal obligations and what we, and colleagues across the electoral community, believe that (A)ROs should expect of their staff in preparing for and delivering UK Parliamentary elections.

At a UK Parliamentary election in England and Wales the administration of the election is the responsibility of the (A)RO, who is normally a senior officer of the local authority.1  

In Scotland, there is no office of (A)RO. Instead, the election is administered by the RO, who is the local government RO or, in the case of a constituency that crosses local authority boundaries, the local government RO listed in an Order made by the Secretary of State.2

Throughout our guidance for elections across Great Britain we use the term (Acting) Returning Officer or (A)RO to refer to the duties normally undertaken by the Acting Returning Officer in England and Wales, and by the Returning Officer in Scotland.

How to use the guidance

The guidance is directed towards the (A)RO and the duties they carry out. As these duties may, in practice, be carried out by deputies and/or appointed staff, we use the term ‘you’ throughout this guidance to mean the (A)RO and whoever is carrying out the (A)RO’s functions on their behalf. 

Throughout this guidance we use ‘must’ to refer to a specific legal requirement and ‘may / should’ for recommended practice.

Where the guidance is different for by-elections or where the (A)RO needs to consider cross-boundary scenarios, the information will be contained in an expanding section. This means that next to the relevant heading there is an icon with a + which will expand to show the relevant guidance.

Guidance to support ROs with other types of election is also available.

You can also access Guidance for Candidates and Agents.

To help you use this guidance we have produced a Q&A document that should answer any initial queries you may have. 

Updates to our guidance

Date of updateDescription of change
February 2024

Updates to guidance to include further considerations when determining absent vote applications

New and updated guidance to reflect the postal vote handing in process

November 2023Updates throughout the guidance to include Tranche 2 provisions of the Elections Act 2022
October 2023

Updates to include new guidance on what to consider when determining absent vote applications now that verification of identity is required and applications can be determined up to and including the day of poll