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

Returning Officer and (Acting) Returning Officer appointment

England and Wales

At a UK Parliamentary election in England and Wales, the Returning Officer (RO) is a largely ceremonial position. Most duties of the RO are discharged by the (Acting) Returning Officer ((A)RO) who is normally a senior officer of the local authority.

Appointment of the RO

In a borough constituency contained in a district, the mayor or chairman of the local authority is the RO. In a county constituency, the RO is the Sheriff of the County. In areas where the constituency overlaps county or district borders, the RO is designated by the Secretary of State. See below for an explanation of the two types of constituencies.1

Duties of the RO

It is for the RO to receive the writ directing that a UK Parliamentary election is to be held. However, an RO can appoint a deputy for the purposes of receiving the writ.2  

The RO may also reserve for themselves the duties in connection with endorsing and returning the writ, as well as declaring and giving public notice of the result. In that case, they must give written notice to you, as the (A)RO. The notice must be given in writing by the day after the receipt of the writ and needs to specify which duties the RO wishes to reserve for themselves.3 The notice is not prescribed.

You should contact the RO at an early stage in your planning to ensure they are aware of their duties in connection with the role and to discuss whether or not these duties will be delegated.

Appointment of (Acting) Returning Officer

In a constituency for which the chairman of a district council or the mayor of a London borough is the RO, the Electoral Registration Officer (ERO) appointed by that council is the (A)RO.

In the case of any other constituency in England and Wales, the ERO for one of the local authorities covered by the constituency will be designated as (A)RO by an order made by the Secretary of State.4  


In Scotland, there is no RO with a ceremonial role. The RO is the person responsible for administering the election. The RO for a UK Parliamentary election in Scotland is the same person who has been appointed RO for the election of councillors in the local authority in which the constituency is situated. Where a constituency crosses local authority boundaries, the Secretary of State will direct which local authority RO is the RO for the UK Parliamentary election.5  

We use the term (Acting) Returning Officer or (A)RO in relation to the duties undertaken by the Acting Returning Officer in England and Wales and the Returning Officer in Scotland. Any references to deputy throughout this guidance should be read as depute for elections in Scotland.

Boundaries and constituencies

There are two types of constituency: county and borough (or burgh in Scotland). In this guidance the term borough will be used and should be read as burgh for constituencies in Scotland.

Typically, borough constituencies are mainly urban while county constituencies are mainly rural. Legislation for England,6 Wales7 and Scotland8  sets out whether a constituency is a county or borough constituency.

UK Parliamentary elections are run on UK Parliamentary constituency boundaries. Constituencies can be coterminous with the areas of local authorities but many comprise only part of the area, while others cross one or more local authority boundaries.

While you are responsible for delivering the election for your constituency as a whole, in practice, if any part of the constituency falls outside your local authority, you will need to consider what impact this will have on your processes and whether you will need to delegate some of your functions to a senior officer at the other local authority. You should liaise closely with the ERO and election staff at the relevant local authority/authorities in order to identify any possible issues and how these will be addressed. You should seek their advice and assistance, where necessary, as they will be more familiar with those areas.


As you are personally liable for the conduct of the election you should ensure that you have insurance cover and that it is up-to-date. You should be prepared to demonstrate robust planning and decision-making processes in the event of any challenge to the election and a claim against the insurance policy.

The team at your council dealing with insurance may be able to help determine what existing cover is in place and available, and to provide advice as to whether it should be extended.

Last updated: 19 December 2023