'Purdah' before elections and referendums

Published Thursday, July 16, 2015

Specific restrictions on the use of public resources are in place during the 'purdah' period before elections and referendums. The Cabinet Office issues guidance for civil servants on their conduct during this period.

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The term “purdah” is in use across central and local government to describe the period of time immediately before elections or referendums when specific restrictions on the activity of civil servants are in place. The term ‘pre-election period’ is also used.

The purdah before referendums is regulated by the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. The purdah before general elections is not regulated by statute, but governed by conventions based largely on the Civil Service Code.

The Cabinet Office issues guidance for civil servants in UK departments on their role and conduct during election and referendum campaigns. This is available on the Cabinet office website.[1]  

For general elections in the past the purdah period commenced with the announcement of the election by the Prime Minister. Under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011, elections now take place every five years, unless an early election is triggered. The Act provided that the 2015 general election would be held on 7 May 2015 and Parliament had to be dissolved on 30 March 2015.

The Government announced that the pre-election period before the general election commenced on 30 March 2015, the same day as the dissolution of Parliament.

Guidance is issued to civil servants on the principles that they should observe in relation to the conduct of Government business in the period before elections and referendums; the guidance for the pre-election period in 2015 was issued on 30 March 2015.

There is statutory guidance for local authorities about publicity during the period just before local elections. The pre-election period is defined as beginning with the publication of notice of the election. In 2015 the latest date for the publication of the notice of election was 30 March 2015. The Code of Recommended Practice on Local Authority Publicity is issued under section 4 of the Local Government Act 1986. The Local Government Association has published Purdah: a short guide to publicity during the pre-election period which gives further information.



[1]     Election guidance for civil servants, GOV.UK, accessed on 10 July 2015


Authors: Isobel White; Elise Rietveld

Topics: Civil Service, Elections, General elections

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