Political Fund Review Ballots

A guide for trade unions and employers’ associations seeking to renew their political resolution


This guide explains the procedure for trade unions and unincorporated employers’ associations wanting to hold a political fund review ballot. The provisions relating to political funds are found in Chapter VI of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 (as amended) (“the Act”). A trade union which has not already established a political fund should refer to Guidance on establishing a Political Fund.

The provisions on political funds apply to unincorporated employers’ associations as well as trade unions. However, for the sake of simplicity this guide only refers to trade unions.

This guide should not be regarded as a complete or authoritative statement of the law. The Certification Officer and her staff will be happy to provide further information about her statutory functions.

Northern Ireland

The 1992 Act does not apply to any trade union which has its main office in Northern Ireland and its membership restricted to Northern Ireland. A trade union which has its main office in Great Britain and has members in Northern Ireland should seek guidance on the use of political fund model rules and contact the Northern Ireland Certification Officer, 10-16 Gordon Street, Belfast, Northern Ireland B1 2LG (Tel: 028 9023 7773 Fax: 028 9023 22771 email:

1. Introduction

A trade union may not apply any part of its funds in the furtherance of the political objects set out at section 72 of the Act unless those objects have first been approved by a resolution passed on a ballot of its members.

Thereafter, the resolution must be put to the union’s members every 10 years via a ballot which is known as a review ballot.

The ballot must be held in accordance with rules approved by the Certification Officer. The Certification Officer’s approval of the ballot rules must be obtained before a review ballot is held.

2. When Must A Review Ballot Be Held?

A review ballot must be held every ten years (See Appendix A for model resolution). The date of the ballot is the last date on which votes were able to be cast in that ballot (section 96).

Special provisions apply to a trade union formed by an amalgamation of two or more trade unions each of which had political resolutions in force. A union formed in this way must hold a review ballot within ten years of the date of the earliest of the ballots which passed the political resolutions in force immediately before the amalgamation

3. Stages

  1. Preparation by the union of the draft ballot rules. Unions need to do this in sufficient time to allow for the completion of all of the subsequent stages.

  2. Submission of draft ballot rules for preliminary approval by the Certification Officer. If the union proposes to use the model rules, they should allow two weeks for this stage. If the union has amended the model rules, they should allow eight weeks for this process.

  3. Adoption of ballot rules by the union. Enough time should be allowed for the adoption process selected by the union to take place.

  4. Submission of ballot rules for formal approval. If preliminary approval is given and no changes are made to the rules this should be possible within five working days. If preliminary approval is not given or significant changes are made to draft rules, allow 8 weeks for this process.

  5. Holding of Ballot. This period needs to start with the appointment of a scrutineer and notification to members. Unions needs to allow enough time for the preparatory work for the ballot to take place, in addition to at least a three week ballot period.

  6. If the resolution is passed and if the ballot is in favour of retaining the political fund, union members must be notified of their right to an exemption.

4. Review Ballot Rules

You should allow time for the procedure outlined in this guide to be followed. The arrangements for the ballot cannot be finalised until the rules have been adopted. You are advised to submit your draft ballot rules to the Certification Officer for preliminary approval well before the date when the union would need to adopt the ballot rules in order to have time to make the necessary practical arrangements for the voting.

5. Preparation By The Trade Union Of Draft Ballot Rules

The Certification Officer must be satisfied that the ballot rules meet the requirements of:

section 75 (appointment of independent scrutineer)

section 76 (entitlement to vote)

section 77 (voting)

section 77A (counting of votes etc. by independent person) and

section 78 (scrutineer’s report).

The Certification Officer has prepared model ballot rules which can be found at Appendix B (where scrutineer also acts as independent person) and Appendix E (where a separate independent person is appointed). These are intended to provide a template for trade unions to use. Trade unions may decide to adopt the model rules, adapt them to suit their specific circumstances or draft their own rules. If the model rules are not adopted wholesale, trade unions should ensure that the rules under which they propose to conduct the review ballot cover all the areas prescribed by the Act.

The requirement in Section 76 requires that entitlement to vote in the ballot must be accorded equally to all members of the trade union, subject to the exception explained in paragraph 6 below.

The Act is silent on what can be included with the ballot paper. However, to assist members in voting, the union may wish to include an explanatory statement on the voting paper (see Appendix C) or attached to it. A suggested form of explanatory statement can be found at Appendix D.

6. Overseas Members

The rules may exclude overseas members from the ballot (section 94). It is for the trade union to decide whether or not to exclude overseas members, but if they are excluded the ballot rules must expressly state that they are not entitled to vote.

7. Preliminary Approval By Certification Officer

It is advisable to submit the draft rules to the Certification Officer for her comments before they are adopted by the union. Two copies of the proposed rules should be submitted for preliminary approval.

If the model rules are followed, the Certification will be able to give her preliminary approval quickly. If you do not follow the model, the Certification Officer may ask for amendments to be made before giving preliminary approval. If this is the case, you should allow at least eight weeks to complete this process.

8. Adoption Of Ballot Rules By The Union

In addition to the normal procedures for amending the union’s rules laid down in the rules themselves, section 92 enables the political fund ballot rules to be adopted in one of two other ways:-

  1. by a majority of the members of the union voting for the purpose; or
  2. by a majority of delegates of the union voting at a meeting called for the purpose.

The Certification Officer has accepted that condition 2 above is satisfied by a majority vote on a union’s executive committee which was called to approve rules made for the purposes of the legislation relating to political funds.

In both cases the Certification Officer must certify that the political fund rules have been so approved.

The adoption of the rules may be effected by the passing of the model resolution (see Appendix A). It provides:-

  1. that the ballot rules shall be adopted; and
  2. that a ballot shall be held in accordance with those rules.

9. Formal Approval By Certification Officer

On the adoption of the rules and before the ballot is held, two copies of the ballot rules, each signed by three members of the executive committee or other governing body of the union, should be sent to the Certification Officer by the General Secretary for formal approval, along with the application form (PF4). If the ballot rules are approved by the Certification Officer, a certificate of approval affixed to one copy of the rules will be returned to the union.

The ballot must not be held until formal approval has been given.

10. Holding The Ballot

The ballot must be held in accordance with the approved rules. The political resolution will be passed if it is approved by a simple majority of the members voting. The union must also comply with the provisions of the ballot rules with regard to the notification of the result of ballot and of the scrutineer’s report (section 78).

11. Complaints About Ballots

A union member may complain to the Certification Officer or the Courts if they believe that:

  1. the ballot was not held under rules approved by the Certification Officer; or
  2. there was a failure to comply with any provision of the approved rules

The complaint must be made within one year from the day the union announced the result of the ballot. Further guidance about the process for complaints to this office can be found in the Certification Officers guidance on making a complaint.

12. Sending Of Notice To Members About Exemption From Contributing To The Political Fund

As soon as is practicable after the passing of a political resolution, the union must give notice to members that joined before 1 March 2018 informing them of their right to be exempt from contributing to the political fund and explaining where a form for this purpose may be obtained. This notice must be given in accordance with rules of the union which have been approved by the Certification Officer. Where a political resolution has been passed on a review ballot, members who have given notice of their objection to contribute to the political fund will continue to be exempt from contributing.

13. The Political Objects

If the political objects in the current rules differ from the model ballot rules, steps must be taken for the revised political objects to be adopted. The Certification Officer must approve all changes to the unions’ political fund rules. Any change to the political objects can be adopted by the union at the same time and by the same method as the ballot rules, and any other rule changes required, under the provisions of section 92 of the Act.

Appendix A (PDF, 143 KB, 1 page) Appendix B (PDF, 330 KB, 9 pages) Appendix C (PDF, 154 KB, 3 pages) Appendix D (PDF, 123 KB, 1 page) Appendix E (PDF, 342 KB, 10 pages) PF4 Form (PDF, 176 KB, 1 page)

Published 10 July 2020