Update on the Referendum

The Electoral Commission – the independent elections watchdog – has said it will now start to deliver the first UK-wide referendum since 1975, following Royal Assent to the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act. The Bill needed to pass into law before Parliament rose for recess to allow for the minimum 10 week referendum period set out in previous legislation.

Jenny Watson, Chair of the Electoral Commission and Chief Counting Officer for the referendum, said: “On Thursday 5 May, voters across the UK will decide who represents them in the Scottish Parliament, Northern Ireland Assembly, National Assembly for Wales and local authorities in England and Northern Ireland. They will now also decide whether we use ‘first past the post’ or ‘alternative vote’ to elect MPs to the UK Parliament.

We’ve been preparing for the referendum since the Bill was introduced to Parliament last summer.. Now the Bill has passed into law, we can start to register campaigners and press ahead with our plans to send an information booklet to every household in the UK.

We’ll continue to work with the hundreds of local Counting Officers across the UK to make sure people can vote with confidence at the elections and referendum on 5 May.


The Electoral Commission will send an information booklet to all 27.8 million household in the UK. The booklet explains what elections are taking place, the referendum question, how to take part in the referendum and elections on 5 May and gives an independent explanation of the ‘first past the post’ and ‘alternative vote’ systems. The booklet will be supported by a multi-media advertising campaign.

The Commission will also now start to register campaigners for the referendum, and to receive applications to become the official lead campaigners for a ‘yes’ and ‘no’ vote.
The lead campaigners will have access to a public grant of £380,000 each, spending limits of up to £5million each as well as a free mail shot to voters and referendum broadcasts.

For further information contact Electoral Commission press office:

  • 020 7271 0704 (Out of hours: 07789 920414)
  • Follow us on Twitter @ElectoralCommUK

Extra notes

Notes to editors

  • The Electoral Commission is an independent body set up by the UK Parliament. Our aim is integrity and public confidence in the UK’s democratic process. We regulate party and election finance, set standards for well-run elections and are responsible for the conduct and regulations of referendums held under the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act (PPERA) 2000.
  • The Chief Counting Officer for the UK voting system referendum is Jenny Watson. Ms Watson is also the Chair of the Electoral Commission.
  • The Chief Counting Officer is responsible for the conduct of the referendum and for ensuring the accuracy of the overall result. The Chief Counting Officer appoints and may issue directions to local and regional Counting Officers
  • The Chief Counting Officer has issued a series of instructions and legally binding directions to Counting Officers, which are available on our website.
  • The Deputy Chief Counting Officer for the UK voting system referendum will be Max Caller CBE. Mr Caller is also an Electoral Commissioner.
  • There are also elections to the Scottish Parliament, National Assembly for Wales, Northern Ireland Assembly and elections to local authorities in England and Northern Ireland on 5 May. Anyone wishing to vote on 5 May must be on the electoral register by 14 April in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and by 15 April in Scotland. See www.aboutmyvote.co.uk for more information.
  • There will be separate versions of the information booklet for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Copies of the core text of the Commission’s public information booklet can be found on the Commission's website.
  • PPERA gives the Commission specific responsibilities in relation to the conduct of referendums. Details of the Commission’s role can be found on the Commission website.
  • Anyone intending to spend more than £10,000 on campaigning in the referendum between now and polling day must register with the Electoral Commission. Registered campaigners may also apply to the Commission to become lead campaigners for the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ campaigns. The Commission must appoint lead campaigners on both sides, or not at all. It will make a decision on appointment of lead campaigners by 29 March. The Commission regulates campaign spending during the referendum period. Further information is available on our website.