The Electoral Commission

The independent body which oversees elections and regulates political finance in the UK

Section menu

What we do and don't regulate

What we regulate

We are legally empowered to investigate and impose sanctions in relation to the controls in the Political Parties, Elections, and Referendums Act 2000 (PPERA). 

In general we regulate:

  • political parties
  • non-party campaigners campaigning for or against particular parties (but not for or against individual candidates)
  • individual party members and holders of elective office
  • referendum campaigners

We can impose civil sanctions for most criminal offences under PPERA without a referral to the police, but some offences are reserved for criminal prosecution only. This does not prevent us from considering allegations, but in those cases we will not generally investigate the allegation. Instead we will make an assessment of the evidence and then decide whether or not to refer the matter to the police or relevant prosecuting authority.

You can read a full list of the offences we regulate and the sanctions available for them, including those reserved for criminal prosecution here but the main controls are:

  • spending limits
  • delivery of donations and loans reports, annual accounts and campaign expenditure reports to us
  • only accepting donations from permissible donors 

We regulate the requirement for parties and other campaigners (but not candidates) to include an ‘imprint’ on campaign material that identifies the source of the material. We also regulate the controls on publicly funded bodies campaigning.

What we don't regulate - and advice on who does

Candidates, agents and campaigns for or against a candidate

Candidate spending

We monitor compliance with the rules for candidates and agents in order to assess whether the rules are effective and being followed, but we do not have specific investigative and sanctioning powers in relation to these criminal offences. Decisions on the investigation and prosecution of these offences are a matter for the police and the CPS, and allegations on non-compliance are for them to consider. We may look at instances of potential non-compliance as part of our monitoring role, and as with all of our regulatory work we may, where appropriate, liaise with the police and CPS. 

We have suggested that Parliament considers giving us the power to investigate and impose sanctions for these offences.

Imprints on candidate material

We do not regulate the requirement for individual candidates and agents to include an ‘imprint’ on campaign material that identifies the source of the material. Decisions on the investigation and prosecution of these offences are a matter for the police and the CPS, and allegations on non-compliance are for them to consider. 

We do regulate the equivalent controls for parties and other campaigners.

Third party campaigns for or against individual candidates

Whilst we do regulate campaigning for or against parties, we do not regulate campaigning for or against specific candidates. Decisions on the investigation and prosecution of these offences are a matter for the police and the CPS, and allegations on non-compliance are for them to consider.

Conduct of elections

We do not regulate how local authorities run elections, including for example electoral registration, postal votes, candidates’ or others’ behaviour at polling stations, and other offences around voting. Complaints about electoral registration, voting or polling station issues should be directed to the local authority (or, in Northern Ireland, the Chief Electoral Officer) in the first instance as they will be best placed to address your complaint. You can find the contact details for your local authority here.

Nor do we have any role, or powers, to enforce the ‘purdah’ period, which is a convention by which public bodies do not publish politically sensitive information in the run up to elections. Similarly, we do not regulate the use of local authority premises by parties.

We do however give guidance on the conduct of elections, set performance standards, and monitor performance. We have also produced a voluntary Code of Conduct for campaigners (PDF) . If you believe a campaigner who has signed up to the code has failed to comply with it, you should raise this with the campaigner in the first instance, but we will consider highlighting any instances brought to our attention in a report. You can speak to us for advice about a complaint related to these issues by contacting your local Commission team. We may contact the local authority to enable us to develop a full response to your enquiry.

Content of campaign material and party election broadcasts

In general, political campaign material in the UK is not regulated, and it is a matter for voters to decide on the basis of such material whether they consider it accurate or not. This includes the design of the material. There is one exception to this, which is making or publishing a false statement of fact in relation to a candidate’s personal character or conduct (not their political views or conduct), unless there are reasonable grounds to believe the statement is true. The Commission does not regulate this rule however, and any allegations should be made to the police.

The Advertising Standards Authority regulates advertising, but non-broadcast political material whose principal function is to influence voters is exempt from its remit. Further, as broadcast political advertising is prohibited in the UK, Ofcom retains responsibility for considering whether television and radio advertisements have been directed towards a political end or placed by a body whose aims are wholly or mainly of a political nature.

The Electoral Commission is also not responsible for regulating party election broadcasts (PEBs), however, these must observe the wider law - for example, on copyright, libel, contempt, obscenity, incitement to racial hatred or violence. In addition, all broadcasters’ PEBs must also comply with the harm and offence and incitement rules of the Ofcom Broadcasting Code. BBC PEBs must comply with relevant provisions of the BBC Editorial Guidelines. More information on the production rules for PEBs can be found on the website of the Broadcaster Liaison Group here. The Commission also has no role in the arrangements for any broadcast leadership debates, which are managed between the relevant broadcasters and political parties directly. The content of any broadcast leadership debates must comply with the Ofcom Broadcasting Code and/or the BBC Editorial Guidelines as appropriate.

The wider law does generally apply to political campaign material, and if you believe any material breaches have been made, for example, with regard to equalities or public order legislation, you may wish to report this to the police or seek your own legal advice.

We do not regulate the use of databases for the purpose of sending campaign material. If you are concerned as to how your name and/or address was obtained, you should contact the organisation who sent the material in the first instance. The Information Commissioner’s Office is the independent authority set up to uphold information rights in the public interest.

Internal party matters and disputes with suppliers

We have no role or power to intervene in or make rulings on internal party matters such as alleged misuse of funds, unless the matter involves a potential offence we do regulate. Similarly, we do not regulate the conduct of parties and have no power to ensure parties pay invoices for goods or services provided. If you are concerned about an issue of the type, you may wish to obtain independent legal advice.

Roles and responsibilities