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

Working with mail delivery partners

Unless you are planning to hand-deliver all of your election material, you will need have early discussions with your mail delivery provider to finalise arrangements. Your focus should be to ensure that material is delivered to electors successfully and maximises the time available to them to receive the information and take action as necessary. 

Some print suppliers use Royal Mail for the end to end delivery of mail, however some use downstream access (DSA) providers for the initial part of the distribution process. This involves the mail being collected and processed by a company other than Royal Mail, but then handed over to Royal Mail mail centres for final processing and delivery from local delivery offices. 

Regardless of how the delivery of your mail is managed, it is important to retain an overview at all times as responsibility remains with you even where you outsource different processes. 

You should discuss with your print suppliers to confirm whether they intend to use DSA providers as part of the process of delivering your election material, or whether items will be handed over directly to Royal Mail. This will help you understand the full delivery process and manage any issues should they arise. 

If you have agreed with your supplier that DSA providers will be used as part of the despatch and delivery process, you should get updates from your supplier on the progress of the delivery throughout.

Managing delivery schedules

You should liaise with your print supplier to manage the delivery of materials and ensure that voters receive the material as soon as possible so that they have the maximum amount of time to act on the information.

In making these arrangements you should:

  • agree and obtain formal confirmation on strict delivery schedules well in advance of the poll. For example, when the dispatch of election material will commence and last date of dispatch
  • obtain postal dockets to confirm the number of documents dispatched and the dates of dispatch, for all issues. This will also help to identify any possible issues that may have arisen with regards to dispatch and feed into any subsequent evaluation of contractor performance, and enable you to provide information to voters on dates that they should expect to receive material

You can find more information in our guidance on options for delivery of postal ballot packs

Royal Mail

You should contact your Royal Mail account manager, and continue to liaise with them on a regular basis. 
At an early stage in your planning process you should ensure that:

  • any business reply licences you hold are up to date 
  • you obtain the estimated delivery window of election material based on the despatch dates and method of delivery/postal package chosen. This will help you to manage communication channels to voters in your area and assist in early detection of any issues encountered with the delivery of election material
  • any postal voting arrangements will help to maximise the time available to postal voters to receive, complete and return their postal vote
  • the correct postage will be included on any postal votes being sent to addresses outside the UK
  • Royal Mail knows where and when to deliver your returned postal votes to a secure point, ready for processing; you may wish to consider a timed delivery 

You will also need to consider whether to arrange for any final sweeps of postal votes and weigh up what the benefits of the sweep would be.

Last updated: 19 December 2023