Advice: Filling in your local election expense returns (due 8/9 June)

Please read the below article about filling in your expense returns for the Local Elections 2017. ALDC members can find a full list of articles on our advice microsite.

Expense returns for the Local Elections 2017

We all know that they have to be done but getting round to doing them is most activists least enjoyable election task. Your local authority should supply you with a set of election expense forms. There are three basic forms to be submitted for each candidate:

  1. The expense form. This has changed radically in recent years – do NOT assume that the way you did it four years ago will be OK this time.
  2. The candidate’s declaration. This declares that the submitted expenses are complete, accurate and lawful. It is no longer necessary to have these forms signed by a magistrate.
  3. The agent’s declaration (if you were not your own agent).

The legal requirement is that you submit your expenses and declarations, not which forms or format are used. Some councils issue their own (often dated) forms.

If you’ve not got a set of forms yet they will be available from your council offices or you can download the Electoral Commission’s generic forms as a PDF below.

The Electoral Commission also provide it as an Excel spreadsheet but bizarrely it does not sum columns or carry forward totals from the detailed pages to the summary ones – which is a wasted opportunity. Below we offer you a version of the Electoral Commission’s Excel spreadsheet, kindly adapted by Hywel Morgan so that it does total.

If you use the Excel spreadsheet you will still need to print and sign it.


Most of the elections were declared on Friday 5 May. If yours were declared before midnight on Thursday take each deadline a day earlier. If yours were declared on Saturday, take each deadline a day later.

  • Friday 26 May – All bills to be sent to the agent. The agent should not legally pay bills received after this date.
  • Friday 2 June – All bills to be paid by agent. Parishes need to submit their expenses by this date – a week earlier than principal councils.
  • Friday 9 June – Election return and agents declaration to be received by the returning officer.

Top tips

It is usually worth doing a trial run so make several photocopies of all pages of the form. Read the guidance notes on the front page of the form but also available as a link below.

  1. Make a first draft of your list of items of expenditure and identify the details required for the return. Make sure that all payments have been made by the agent. Make sure you have paid all the bills by the correct date and have receipts dated on or before the deadline for all expenditure over £20.
  2. Notional expenditure, e.g. gifts in kind, etc, are one of the newer developments on the forms. This allows discounts, ‘special deals’, etc to be adequately and fairly recorded. If you do have to declare any notional expenditure, it will have to appear both at its commercial value and then as nil or the discounted amount in the amount paid column. You must cost at “market value” anything given for free or at more than 10% discount. The agent is still the only person who can authorise and incur costs for a candidate’s campaign, but not everything now needs to pass through the campaign account. The old practise of handing over cheques and receiving balancing donations when services or materials are donated is now unnecessary. The most frequent use of this notional expenditure mechanism is the “omnibus” invoice from the local party.
  3. The omnibus invoice. An invoice from your local party (for instance) to the campaign for “services rendered”. Wrap up a series of small bills into one: e.g. items sold to campaign from stock (e.g. envelopes, stamps, tellers’ pads), including those bought in advance, items hired out to campaign (e.g. use of computer database, rosettes, website, stakes for posters). This is often a notional item. Items such as computer equipment, which has been bought for general use, and which some use is made of during the election can be covered in this sort of invoice as an overhead or by a specific bill for hire of the equipment. However there is nothing to stop the local party paying for the printing of all the campaign literature (perhaps using economies of scale to get a cheaper deal) and this being included in the “omnibus” invoice. This is common practise for local elections in target parliamentary seats.
  4. Free items. Anything given for free or at more than 10% discount must still be included in your returns if the value is more than £50. You should give the market value for these items and this (plus whatever you paid) is what counts towards your limit; e.g. if you get £100 of printing for free, you must still include a notional expenditure of £100 in the return; if you paid only £10 for it then you include the £10 actual expenditure and £90 of notional expenditure. If the value is less than £50, the gift in kind does not count towards your expense limit. Most committee rooms, for example, will “cost” less than £50 to the campaign, so you don’t need to worry about including a nominal sum for their use anymore.
  5. Office equipment like fax, computers, etc should be hired from the local party. However, you do not have to include the costs of using computing or printing equipment which was acquired by the candidate or by another individual principally for their own personal use if the provision was made free of charge, e.g. laser printer connected to computer at home which is used for printing a few canvass cards. (Remember also that items supplied free that are worth less than £50 do not have to be included in the expense return anyway – see above – so this covers use of some paper, toner and electricity along with the equipment).
  6. The Connect database should be hired from the constituency. As this database is used all year round and for other elections, the hire cost should reflect this and as a result may be quite low. Costs associated with email and website should be invoiced by the local party or the local Internet Officer, depending on who normally pays the bills.
  7. Hired items. If you use items such as loudspeakers, sledgehammers, poster boards, etc. which are owned by the local party, then the local party should bill the agent for a reasonable hiring charge. In calculating the hire charge bear in mind that many of these can be used over several elections and also be used outside of election time – which means the hire charge for any one election may be quite low.
  8. Nil returns. “There’s no need to bother, we didn’t spend any money” WRONG. Even if you didn’t spend any money you still need to file a return – after all if you don’t how will people know you didn’t spend anything? Also, you should be careful that there were no shared expenses which should be declared (for example the costs of copying the district wide manifesto and renting a room for the press launch would need sharing between all candidates).
  9. Helpers. These can give their time for free – you don’t need to allow for it in your expenses. People can give their time for free and can also provide transport services for free if they are using a means of transport acquired principally for their own personal use (e.g. their own car). Candidates can also use their own means of transport for free if they too were principally acquired for their own personal use (e.g. their own car). In both cases you can’t have someone buy – for example – a minibus specially for the campaign and then try to use that for free.
    However any payments made to individuals e.g. to an artworker, or paid deliverers, must be included (NB payment to canvassers is illegal).
  10. Make and file a copy of your return of expenses in case you need to refer to it in the future.
  11. Remember the other election limits. If you were wise enough to include content in your literature or other expenditure that can legitimately be shared as a cost with the Parliamentary, then remember to apportion the costs between the campaigns. This year no expenses can be apportioned to the national campaign that have not been signed off personally by a senior member of HQ campaign staff. Agree the apportionments with the other agents and don’t expect her/him pay the other shares unless that was pre-arranged.

The law

Failure to comply with the statutory provisions below regarding election expenses are illegal practices punishable by a fine up to £5,000. Any person convicted of an illegal practice is disqualified from standing for election for the period for which he was elected to serve or for which if elected he might have served, and if at the date of the report he holds any elective office it is vacated at that date. This is so whether there is personal guilt or guilt by agent. They are also disqualified from registration and voting for three years.

  1. Failure by a candidate or election agent to make a return or declaration of election expenses which the Statute requires. Submission of a defective return is also an illegal practice.
  2. Knowingly paying any sum or incurring any expense by a candidate or election agent, before, during or after an election in excess of the maximum permitted sum.
  3. With exceptions for personal and petty expenses, making any payment or advance in respect of election expenses, otherwise than by or through the candidate’s election agent.
  4. Providing money for election expenses, as a gift, loan, advance or deposit by a payment otherwise than to the candidate or his agent.
  5. Paying election expenses other than within the permitted time for such payments.

It’s not fun but it has to be done.


Roy Gregg says

It would help if you made clear under which heading on the expenses return form the items you mention should be listed. Thank you

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *