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

Absent voting timetable

You must issue postal votes to electors as soon as is practicable.1 In practice, this means at any time after the details to be printed on the ballot papers have been confirmed, i.e. after the deadline for withdrawals, which is 4pm on the last day for the delivery of nomination papers.

The early dispatch of postal votes will maximise the time available for electors – especially overseas and service voters – to receive, complete and return their postal votes. You can find more information in our guidance: Issuing and distributing postal votes.

You may only issue a postal vote to someone who has been added to the electoral register and has made a successful application for a postal vote. The ERO is required to publish two interim election notices of alteration before publishing the final election notice of alteration on the fifth working day before the poll.2  This supports the dispatch of postal votes at an early stage in the timetable to those electors who have applied to register and applied for a postal vote close to the registration deadline. More information is available in our guidance for EROs: election notices of alteration.

If you are not also the ERO, you should liaise with them to obtain the postal voters’ list and the postal proxy voters’ list as soon as possible after the publication of the first interim election notice of alteration to include these electors in the initial dispatch of postal votes. This notice must be published on the same day as the deadline for the delivery of nomination papers.3

You will also need to liaise with the ERO to obtain any subsequent updates once the second interim election notice of alteration and the final election notice of alteration have been published.

You can find further information on interim notices of alteration in our guidance for EROs in England, Scotland and Wales.
Our template election timetable for a UK Parliamentary general election and the timetable for by-elections also includes the relevant publication dates for these notices.

Cross-boundary constituencies

If, as (A)RO, you are responsible for a constituency that crosses local authority boundaries you should liaise with the ERO(s) in the other authority/authorities to obtain the data you need. If there is a need for exchanging data electronically, you should ensure that a test of the process is carried out ahead of the first scheduled transfer.

Absent voting timetable

Deadlines for absent vote applications and requests for changes to existing arrangements

The deadline for electors to submit new postal and postal proxy applications is 5pm, 11 working days before polling day. This is also the deadline:

  • to cancel existing postal votes
  • for electors to make changes (i.e. amending the delivery address) to any existing absent vote (i.e. postal, proxy and postal proxy) arrangements

If, however, an elector is an existing postal voter and has already returned their postal ballot paper, they cannot make changes after that time, even if this is before 5pm, 11 working days before polling day.4

The deadline for new proxy applications (not postal proxy), excluding emergency proxy applications, is 5pm, 6 working days before polling day.5

The deadline for emergency proxy applications is 5pm on polling day.6  You can find more information in our guidance: voting by emergency proxy.

This table summarises the deadlines for easy reference:

Submit new postal and postal proxy vote applications5pm, 11 working days before polling day
Cancel existing postal votes5pm, 11 working days before polling day
Make changes to existing absent voting arrangements5pm, 11 working days before polling day
New proxy (not postal proxy) applications5pm, 6 working days before polling day
Emergency proxy applications5pm, polling day

The ERO will provide you with the final lists of absent voters, i.e. the list of postal voters, the list of postal proxy voters and the list of proxies, after the deadline for applications has passed.

Where a completed registration application is made by the deadline but the applicant’s identity cannot be verified against DWP records or through local data matching, the ERO has until the determination deadline for applications, which is six working days before the poll to receive the required evidence from the applicant under the exceptions process and make a determination.

An absent vote cannot be granted until both the registration and absent vote applications have been positively determined. The postal vote will then need to be dispatched, and the voter will need to receive, complete and return their postal vote by 10pm on polling day.

Last updated: 22 February 2024