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Referendum publicity, campaigning and expenses guidance

This note sets out our understanding of the current position and is given in good faith. However, it is simplified and cannot definitively express the law. Any individual, group, parish council or parish meeting should satisfy itself that any actions it takes are consistent with relevant guidance and regulations and may wish to take their own advice on these matters.

Publicity by West Northamptonshire Council

Section 5 of the Neighbourhood Planning (Referendums) Regulations 2012 places restrictions on publication of promotional material in relation to a neighbourhood planning referendum.

This restricts the “relevant council” (West Northamptonshire Council) from producing any material that provides general information about the referendum; that deals with any of the issues raised by ‘the question’ to be asked at the referendum; or puts any arguments for or against a particular answer to that question during the ‘referendum period’.

The referendum period starts on the date which the information statement is published. This will be a minimum of 28 days before the referendum date. The referendum period ends at close of poll on the day of the referendum.

However, this does not apply to material that is required to be made available as set out in section 4 of the Neighbourhood Planning (Referendums) Regulations 2012 which includes:

  • An information statement, setting out the date, time and other factual details about the referendum
  • The draft neighbourhood plan (referendum version)
  • The examiner’s report
  • A summary of representations received at submission stage
  • A statement setting out that the local planning authority are satisfied the plan meets the basic conditions
  • A statement setting out general information about town and country planning and neighbourhood planning

We can also publish press notices containing factual information where the sole purpose of their publication is to refute or correct any inaccuracy in material published by someone else.

Publicity by town and parish councils or parish meetings

Town and parish councils and parish meetings are not the “relevant council” and are therefore not directly restricted by the 2012 Neighbourhood Planning (Referendum) Regulations 2012.

However, town and parish councils, but not parish meetings, are required by Section 4(1) of the Local Government Act 1986 to have regard to The Code of Recommended Practice on Local Authority Publicity. Part of this is relevant and should be taken into account. This says:

“In general, local authorities should not issue any publicity which seeks to influence voters. However this general principle is subject to any statutory provision which authorises expenditure being incurred on the publication of material designed to influence the public as to whether to support or oppose a question put at a referendum. It is acceptable to publish material relating to the subject matter of a referendum, for example to correct any factual inaccuracies which have appeared in publicity produced by third parties, so long as this is even-handed and objective and does not support or oppose any of the options which are the subject of the vote”

There are also general legal duties for public bodies (including town and parish councils and meetings) only to spend money on things legislation provides the power for, and to act reasonably.

Campaigning and expenses

A campaign organiser, either an individual or group wishing to conduct a campaign with a view to promoting or procuring a particular outcome in relation to the question to be asked in the referendum is subject to an expenses limit.

Sections 6 and 7 of the Neighbourhood Planning (Referendum) Regulations 2012 set out the limit that may be spent on referendum expenses and the penalty for non-compliance. A maximum of £2,362 plus £0.059 for each entry in the relevant register of electors may be spent by campaign organisers in connection with a referendum campaign. The exact amount allowed for each referendum area will be published in the Information Statement or may be obtained from our Electoral Services team.

Schedule 2 of the Neighbourhood Planning (Referendum) Regulations 2012 (as amended) states that expenses mean the expenses incurred by or on behalf of any individual or body during the referendum period in relation to:

  • Advertising of any nature
  • Unsolicited material addressed to voters
  • Information about the referendum, information about the question, arguments for and against
  • Market research or canvassing
  • Provision of any property, services or facilities in connection with press conferences or dealings with the media
  • Transport (by any means) of persons to anywhere with a view to obtaining publicity in connection with a referendum campaign
  • Rallies and other events, including public meetings
  • Expenses also include any notional expenses, where property, services or facilities are provided free of charge or at a discount. These are counted as if the normal charge had been levied

It is an offence for a campaign organiser to exceed the referendum expenses limits and if found guilty would be liable to a fine of up to £5,000 and/or imprisonment for up to 12 months. Campaigning groups are encouraged to register with and submit a statement of expenses to us.

Contact details

Electoral Services

Email: [email protected]

Planning Policy Team

Email: [email protected]
Phone: 0300 126 7000

Last updated 13 April 2023