Report: The costs of delivering the June 2016 referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union


On 23 June 2016 a referendum was held across the United Kingdom and Gibraltar about whether the UK should remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union.

We had a number of specific responsibilities and functions in relation to the referendum, which included our then Chair, Jenny Watson, acting as Chief Counting Officer (CCO) with overall responsibility for the administration of the poll.

The CCO appointed a Regional Counting Officer (RCO) for each of the eleven electoral regions in Great Britain.

The local government Returning Officer (RO) for each local authority in Great Britain was the Counting Officer (CO) for that area. The Chief Electoral Officer for Northern Ireland was the CO for the whole of Northern Ireland.

We were also responsible for overseeing and accounting to the UK Parliament for the payment of fees to RCOs and COs for running the referendum and the reimbursement of the costs they incurred in doing so.

About this report and about the referendum

Referendum total cost and cost breakdown

Cost of the referendum

The total cost of the conduct of the referendum was £129.128m.

Cost breakdown

£7.998m in operating costs by the Electoral Commission, including:

  • £1.642m direct staff costs
  • £6.025m public awareness activity costs
  • £0.331m costs of the administration of RCO and CO claims

£26.589, relating to the designated organisations:

  • £1.200m grants to Designated Organisations
  • £25.389m in designated organisation mailings and other Royal Mail costs

£94.541m in CO and RCO costs including:

  • polling station costs
  • postal vote costs
  • poll card costs
  • count costs
  • fees for RCO and CO services

A more detailed breakdown per category can be found in section 3: The cost of the referendum.

How the referendum was funded

The legislative framework

Detailed information about how the referendum was funded

The cost of the referendum

The overall cost of the referendum was £129.128m. This includes:

  • Electoral Commission costs
  • costs of mailings for the designated lead campaigners
  • Regional Counting Officer (RCO) and Counting Officer (CO) costs

Electoral Commission costs

Breakdown of our role and funding

Breakdown of our total costs

Referendum costs

Our total expenditure for the EU Referendum was £129.090m.

Lead campaigner grants0.0001.20000.0001.2000
EC public awareness
(a credit is shown for public awareness in 2017-18 due to the reciept of a credit note from the advertiser)
EC staffing and operational costs0.2871.4630.2231.973
RCO and CO fees and charges0.00094.5410.00094.541
Royal Mail costs0.00025.3890.00025.398

The Electoral Commission is not VAT registered therefore all costs shown are inclusive of VAT where applicable.

Further details of our activity, performance and use of financial resources (including detailed financial statements) can be found in our Annual Report, which is published yearly.

Costs of mailings for the designated lead campaigners

We had a statutory duty to appoint designated lead campaign groups for each side of the referendum campaign. We could designate for one side of the debate only, or for neither side if we received no applicants for an outcome or if we were not satisfied that any of the applicants adequately represented those supporting a particular outcome. Registered campaigners could apply to be designated lead campaign groups.

On 13 April 2016, we designated:

  • The In Campaign Ltd (also known as Britain Stronger in Europe) as the lead campaigner for the Remain outcome
  • Vote Leave Ltd as the lead campaigner for the Leave outcome

Lead campaign groups have certain benefits in addition to those given to registered campaigners, including the sending of a referendum address to each elector or each household in the referendum area. This is a statutory entitlement under Section 110(4) of PPERA.

From the non-voted funds allocated for the EU Referendum, the largest actual expenditure we incurred, excluding RCOs and COs’ fees and charges, was for the provision of mailings on behalf of the designated lead campaigners. This covered the cost of delivering campaign materials, not the cost of producing those materials, which the campaigners met themselves.

The table below shows details of this cost by campaign group:

Designated lead campaignerNumber of deliveriesCost (£m)
Vote Leave44,936,14212.942
Britain Stronger in Europe
(Britain Stronger in Europe was the campaign name for The In Campaign Ltd)


Details of Royal Mail costs

Regional Counting Officer and Counting Officer costs

Last updated: 30 July 2019
Next review: 9 June 2020