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

Contingency planning

Your project plan should cover contingency planning and business continuity arrangements to enable all elements of the delivery of the election to continue in the event of any unexpected issues or disruptions. It is important to keep your contingency plans under review and to re-visit and amend them periodically during the run up to the poll. In doing so, you should consider the success and continuing appropriateness of any existing measures, identify any improvements and expose any gaps. 

You should also develop and maintain separate ongoing contingency plans to support the delivery of any unscheduled polls and by-elections that may occur.

Your contingency planning should include arrangements for the key areas of risk to the delivery of the election including:

  • Contractors

    • You should ensure that any suppliers you use – such as your EMS provider and any external print providers – have their own detailed business continuity plans in place. You should be satisfied that their contingency arrangements are sufficient to enable you to perform your duties in the case of any interruptions in service whilst fulfilling their own contractual duties. For more information see our guidance on Managing the procurement process for outsourced work.
  • Venues

  • Staffing

    • You should identify solutions to enable you to respond to a sudden staffing shortage. You should liaise with your HR department who can use their expertise to assist you with your planning. Other departmental managers within your local authority, or neighbouring authorities with reciprocal agreements in place may also be able to offer additional support in managing any requirements for temporary staff for specific parts of the electoral process. For more information see our guidance on Allocating sufficient staff resources and providing training and Flexible staffing.
  • IT

    • IT also plays a key role in many of the processes required to run the election. You should liaise with your IT services to ensure that you have adequate resources and contingency measures in place to allow you to perform your functions in the event of IT failure. This could include:
      • improving any measures allowing remote working capabilities 
      • having dedicated IT support during the election period
      • storing certain files and documents locally to enable them to be accessed more easily
      • sourcing any spare or alternative equipment that could be used as a backup, e.g. printers, laptops, routers
    • As part of your IT contingency planning, you should consider how you would produce Voter Authority Certificates in the event of IT or contractor failure.
  • Security

Security risks should also be considered as part of your contingency arrangements, setting out how you will continue to deliver the election in the event of theft, fraudulent activity, or any other security risk as identified in your risk register. You should liaise with the police and business continuity experts from your council to identify risks and put appropriate continuity measures in place.

Additional security guidance for elections for Returning Officers, candidates and agents is available at

Additionally, you should work with your IT services to understand what preventative measures are in place for your council to protect against cyber-threats, such as ransomware attacks. The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) advises that examples of preventative measures could include:

A White Paper on ransomware has been published from the NCSC and the National Crime Agency (NCA). The NCSC has also produced this guidance to help you assess the risks associated with IT and cyber-threats. 

Last updated: 22 March 2024