Complain to the Certification Officer about a trade union or employers' association

How to make an application to the Certification Officer under the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992.

1. Who can make a complaint?

You can make a complaint if you are a member of the trade union, or you were a member at the time of the incident you are complaining about

However, if your complaint relates to statutory elections, you may not need to be a member of that union but must have ‘sufficient interest’, for instance you may have been a candidate in an election for General Secretary without being a member of the union. Click here for the relevant legislation.

Anyone can make a complaint about the financial affairs of a trade union. This is covered under separate guidance.

You cannot make a complaint to the Certification Officer if you have already made the same complaint to a Court.

Anonymous complaints – the Certification Officer cannot normally deal with anonymous complaints. Your identity will normally be disclosed to the union and anyone else the Certification Officer’s sees fit, as part of her inquiries. Decisions of the Certification Officer are also published on the website. The only exception is where you satisfy the Certification Officer that anonymity is needed to protect you, e.g. you have a real fear of reprisals (you will need to provide reasons for this). Please click here for full guidance on how the Certification Officer deals with anonymous complainants.

2. What can I complain about?

You can make a complaint if you think the union has breached, or threatened to breach, its rules in in relation to one or more of the following:

  1. the appointment or election of a person to any office or the removal of a person from any office;
  2. disciplinary proceedings by the union, including expulsion (please note this relates to the union disciplinary procedures against members only);
  3. the balloting of members on any issue other than industrial action;
  4. the constitution or proceedings of any executive committee or of any decision-making meetings (section 108A, subsections 10 to 15).

The Certification Officer has determined that the meaning of ‘constitution or proceedings’ is rules relating to the relevant committee’s constitution (eg its membership or quorum) or procedural rules about the way business must be conducted. Her role is limited to considering complaints about a breach of the Rules; she has no power to consider appeals against the decision itself.

You can also complain about the Union’s compliance with the law on the following issues;

If your complaint does not relate to one of these areas, the Certification Officer does not have the power to consider it. This includes complaints about how your union has represented you or the quality of representation by your union rep or union solicitors. If you are unclear whether your complaint falls within the CO’s powers, please contact us.

3. When should I make a complaint?

Before making a complaint to the Certification Officer, you should try to resolve your complaint with the union first, using an internal procedure. The Certification Officer may refuse to accept a complaint if you have not already tried to resolve it with the union.

For breaches of union rules the time limit for making a complaint is: -

  • six months from the date of the alleged breach or threatened breach
  • if you have used the union’s internal complaints procedure then six months from the date that procedure is concluded, or
  • if you have used the union’s internal complaints procedure and this has not been concluded within 12 months, you have a further six months to make your complaint to the Certification Officer

In the case of certain elections, the limit is one year from the date the union announces the election results.

4. What do I do if I want to complain?

  • To make a complaint, complete the application form at the bottom of this page

  • You will need to provide all relevant supporting documentation and evidence with your application form

  • Your application form and supporting documentation should be sent to

5. How long will it take?

  • We aim to respond to all correspondence within 10 working days
  • The Certification Officer aims to make a decision on your complaint within 6 months, but this will depend on the complexity of the case

6. Process

  • We will assess your application to consider whether the complaints are within the CO’s jurisdiction and within the statutory time limits

  • If they are we will correspond with you to understand and identify the nature of your complaints and agree the complaint wording

  • The complaint wording agreed by you will be sent to the union for its comments

  • You will get an opportunity to reply to the union’s response and you may need to address additional enquiries by this office on your complaints

  • The Certification Officer will decide how to proceed with your complaints

7. Possible outcomes

  • The Certification Officer will give you and the union the opportunity to present your case at a public hearing.

  • You and the other party can agree that the Certification Office should determine the case without a hearing, although the Certification Officer may still decide a hearing is necessary. The Certification Officer can strike out an application/part of an application or response at any stage.

  • If the Certification Officer accepts your complaint, she will issue a decision as to whether she upholds the complaint.

  • If the Certification Officer upholds your complaint, she will make a declaration that the union has breached its rules/legislation. She will also make an enforcement order that the union remedy the breach, unless she considers it to be inappropriate

  • The Certification Officer has no power to fine a trade union, or to award costs to either party.

  • All the Certification Officer’s decisions are published on our website.

  • All decisions can be appealed to the Employment Appeal Tribunal

8. Contact us

If you have any questions or are unsure of any of this guidance, call or email 0330 109 3602

9. Application

Click to download the Complaint form Certification Office Complaint form (PDF, 933KB, 10 pages)

Published 13 July 2020