Guidance for Returning Officers - Assistance with voting for disabled voters

Making decisions about providing additional support and equipment for voters

As RO, you can proactively use local data that may be available to inform your decisions about the additional support and equipment you provide at polling stations to enable or make it easier for blind, partially sighted or disabled voters to vote independently and in secret. More information on accessing and using data held by your local authority about disabled residents can be found in our guidance on Communicating information directly to disabled voters.

You may receive requests for additional support or equipment to be provided, beyond those that you already have or are planning to put in place.

For example, you may be informed by a voter with a particular type of impairment that they remain at a substantial disadvantage (i.e. a disadvantage that is more than minor or trivial) despite your adjustments, as they have additional needs.

In such instances, as part of your duty under the Equality Act 2010 you must consider the request and decide if it is reasonable to provide additional support and/or equipment to remove the substantial disadvantage the voter has identified and brought to your attention. There is no set process in law for how you will determine what equipment is reasonable. The Equality and Human Rights Commission publish advice about making reasonable adjustments in the workplace.  While not written specifically for Returning Officers, it may be useful in helping you determine whether is it reasonable to make an adjustment.  

Each request must be considered on its merits and with a view to continuing to support the right of every voter to be able to cast their vote. When making your decision about whether it is reasonable to make an adjustment, there are a range of factors you should take into account, including:

  • whether providing the additional support or equipment that has been requested will enable or make voting easier for disabled voters? 
  • how easy or practical is it to provide the additional support or supply the equipment requested? For example:
    • is the equipment readily available for purchase? 
    • are the cost implications reasonable? 
    • are there any more cost-effective or readily available alternatives?
    • is the equipment single-use or can it be used for future polls?
  • is the requested equipment portable and can it be transferred to another polling station if required (for example, due to a last-minute polling station change)?
  • are there any training implications to consider in order for staff to provide the required support or to support the use of the equipment?
  • have you engaged with individuals at your local authority with expertise in equality, diversity and inclusion for advice?

You are not required to grant every request for additional support or equipment, but you must be able to demonstrate that you have met your anticipatory duty under the Equality Act 2010 and given every request proper consideration using fair and consistent criteria. You should keep sufficient information about requests for future planning purposes and to enable you to review the effectiveness of your provision for disabled voters. 

Retention of information when contacted by a disabled voter for additional support or equipment 

Where you are contacted by a disabled voter asking for additional support or equipment, you may receive sensitive special category data about that individual and their specific needs. You will be considered the data controller for this sensitive data and it is your responsibility to ensure that you manage the processing of that data in line with data protection requirements including ensuring that the individual is aware of how their data will be processed. 

You should take advice from your Data Protection Officer about what to do with the data once processed and whether you need to update any relevant privacy notices. Our data protection guidance for Electoral Registration Officers and Returning Officers contains more information on managing special category data.

Last updated: 6 December 2023