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

Retention and disposal of election documents

You should maintain a document retention policy. You should ensure that you do not retain documents for longer than the period specified in your document retention policy and that they are securely destroyed at the appropriate point.

Your document retention policy should set out the following for all documents you receive and hold:

  • whether the document contains personal data
  • the lawful basis on which any personal data was collected (see ‘Lawful basis for processing’ in our data protection guidance)
  • your retention period
  • your rationale for the retention period

You can find more information in our data protection guidance for Electoral Registration Officers and Returning Officers

In some cases this will be straightforward since electoral legislation will require a set period for which documents are retained, you can find a list of these documents here. In other cases, you will need to make a local decision and justify this in your document retention policy.

Our data protection guidance contains further information on the storage of personal data and on document retention.

Election documents in England and Wales

You must forward the required election documents to the relevant registration officer, who is legally responsible for keeping them. The relevant registration officer is the Electoral Registration Officer (ERO) of the local authority in whose area the constituency is situated. 

If the constituency crosses local authority boundaries, the relevant registration officer is the ERO of the local authority with the highest number of registered electors in the constituency.1  If you are not also the relevant registration officer, you must securely forward the documents to them. 

The one year period that the documents must be stored for starts from the date the ERO receives them.2  You should liaise with them at an early stage to put in place arrangements for the forwarding of the prescribed documents after the declaration of results. You should ensure that all of the documentation is kept secure and accounted for during the process of being forwarded to the ERO. 

The Returning Officer must retain the election documents for the constituency, or constituencies, they are responsible for.

Election notices published on your website

Election notices published on your website

You will need to consider whether it is appropriate or necessary for the various election notices published on your website to remain there beyond the expiry of the petition period for the election. 

Where each notice serves a specific purpose, i.e. advising who will be a candidate at the election, once the election is over, and the opportunity to question that election has passed, they serve no further purpose. You should either remove such notices published on your website, or remove the personal data contained in these notices, once the petition deadline for that election has passed.

Data protection legislation does permit personal data to be stored for longer periods if the data will be processed solely for archiving purposes in the public interest, or for scientific, historical, or statistical purposes and subject to the implementation of appropriate safeguards. For election results, for example, you should retain these on your website as they are for public interest and historical and statistical purposes.

Home address forms

Home address forms must be kept securely stored for a period of 21 calendar days after you have returned the writ. They must be securely destroyed on the next working day after the 21 day period. 

If an election petition relating to the election is presented within the 21 calendar days, the home address forms must be kept securely until the conclusion of the petition proceedings (including any appeal from such proceedings). They must then be securely destroyed on the next working day following the conclusion of the proceedings or appeal.3  

Return of equipment

You should make arrangements to return any equipment, such as the empty ballot boxes, to storage.

During this process you should conduct an audit of your equipment, identifying any damaged items for repair or disposal. This will enable you to plan for any replacements you may need to purchase for future polls. 

Last updated: 19 December 2023