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

Return and receipt of postal votes

You must have received a postal ballot pack by the close of poll via the post or having been handed in at a polling station or council offices in the constituency, for it to be treated as duly returned.

You should confirm the arrangements for the return of postal votes and any final sweeps to be carried out on polling day with Royal Mail. 

If a person is delivering their postal vote to a polling station and they are in a queue at the polling station at 10pm on polling day they must still be permitted to return a postal ballot pack.

Secure storage of returned postal ballots

Returned postal ballots should be stored securely at all times. This includes when they are transported to any postal vote opening session and to the verification and count venues. For more information see our guidance on ensuring the security of ballot papers.

All postal votes returned to you, either at your office or at a polling station on polling day, must be stored in appropriate receptacles. You have a legal duty to take proper precautions for the safe custody of these receptacles.

The methods of storage and transportation you choose should allow you to be satisfied that the returned postal ballot papers are kept securely and cannot be interfered with. 

Postal ballot boxes and receptacles for returned postal votes

You must have two types of ballot boxes for securely storing returned postal votes: 

  • the postal voters’ ballot box(es) 
  • the postal ballot box(es)1

At each opening session, you must also provide receptacles for the following:

  • rejected votes 
  • postal voting statements 
  • ballot paper envelopes
  • rejected ballot paper envelopes

You are also required to have a copy of the postal voters’ list and the postal proxy voters’ list so that entries can be marked when postal voting statements are returned.

Postal voters’ ballot box

The postal voters’ ballot box is used to store returned postal votes while they await opening.

Any postal ballot papers, postal voting statements or ballot paper envelopes that are not received as a complete pack should also be placed in the postal voters’ ballot box.

All postal voters’ ballot boxes must be marked with the words ‘postal voters’ ballot box’ and the name of the constituency.2

You must take precautions to ensure the safe custody of the postal voters’ ballot box.3  You should seal the postal voters’ ballot box and store it in a place that is secure, for example a locked cupboard or room, until the next scheduled opening of postal votes. These precautions will ensure the security of the contents of the postal voters ballot box is maintained at all times.

Postal ballot boxes

Postal ballot boxes are used to store the postal ballot papers which have been through the opening process and are to go forward to the count.
All postal ballot boxes must be marked with the words ‘postal ballot box’ and the name of the constituency.4
All postal ballot boxes must be stored securely until the count. Any agents present at a postal vote opening are entitled to add their seals to postal ballot boxes if they wish.5

Packets of postal votes handed in to the polling station or to the Returning Officer at council offices

Any sealed packets labelled with the description - postal voting documents - contain accepted postal votes which were handed in to the polling station or to the Returning Officer at council offices. These packets are treated as if they were a postal voters’ ballot box6   and therefore should be opened as per the process provided in our guidance on Opening of postal votes

Any sealed packets labelled with the description - rejected postal voting documents and forms - must be included on the list of electors whose postal vote was rejected at the point it was handed in (or left behind) at a polling station or at a council office. More information is set out in our guidance on preparing a record of those postal votes that were rejected when handed into a polling station or at council offices.


Last updated: 27 February 2024