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

The issue and receipt of the writ

A writ requiring the UK Parliamentary election to be run in your constituency will be issued after the dissolution of the UK Parliament. 

The writ will be delivered to the RO unless they have appointed you (the (A)RO) or someone else as their deputy. The writ will be sent to the RO by title, rather than by name.1  

The Clerk of the Crown maintains a list of ROs to whom the writ will be sent. If you, as (A)RO, have been appointed by the RO to receive the writ, the RO must give notice to the Clerk of the Crown on a prescribed form.2  

The writ will usually be delivered by Royal Mail and once it has been issued, your local Royal Mail contact will usually contact the RO or (A)RO to make an appointment for the delivery. It is essential that any changes to the address of the person who will receive the writ are notified to the Clerk of the Crown and the Royal Mail immediately.

Regardless of who receives the writ, a receipt provided by Royal Mail must be completed. This gives the date on which it is received and the name of the officer accepting it. Copies should be taken of the writ and the original kept secure.3

The writ is taken to have been received the day after dissolution of Parliament.4 This allows you to begin making arrangements the day after the election writs are issued, even in the event that the physical delivery of the writ is delayed. The date the writ is taken to have been received affects the UK Parliamentary election timetable. The notice of election must be published no later than 4pm on the second day following the date the writ is taken to have been received.5 The period for delivery of nomination papers will begin from the day after the publication of notice of election. 

UK Parliamentary by-elections

The writ is taken to have been received the day after the issue of the warrant for the writ triggering the by-election timetable, but this timetable is more flexible than the timetable at a general election. This is because at a by-election, the (Acting) Returning Officer has some discretion over the length of the nomination period, which also impacts on polling day. 

The process for receiving the writ is the same at a UK Parliamentary by-election as it is for a general election. However, the timing of the issue of the writ for a by-election is dependent on when a motion is moved in the House of Commons for the issue of the writ. A writ may also be issued in certain circumstances during Parliamentary recess. 

You must fix the date of the poll and the length of the nomination period. The deadline for the receipt of nomination papers cannot be earlier than the third working day after the date of publication of the notice of election and not later than the seventh working day after the writ is received.6  

You should seek to maximise the length of time that candidates have to submit their nomination papers within the limits set by the timetable 

Polling day must not be earlier than the 17th and not later than the 19th working day after the last day for delivery of nomination papers.

If you have a by-election, you should contact your local Commission team who will be able to assist you by checking the election timetable.

The issue and receipt of the writ

We have produced a timetable with all of the relevant deadlines for a UK Parliamentary election, as well as a separate template timetable for a UK Parliamentary by-election. 

Information about endorsing and returning the writ after the declaration of the result can be found in our guidance on Providing notice of the result.

Last updated: 19 December 2023