By John Howarth @johnhowarth1958
At every election we are asked questions about the election ‘freepost’ service. They range from the basics to the detailed. This is the first of a series of blog posts on the election freepost service from LabourPrint by Public Impact aimed at answering the questions that local organisers typically have and giving you the information to make decisions about your local election freepost.
What is the Freepost?
The ‘freepost’ is nearly a century old, having been introduced in 1918. It is a public service run by Royal Mail providing free postage of one item of mail from each candidate to each voter in order to facilitate the democratic process in the UK by ensuring that electors are able to make free and informed choice at the ballot box.
What’s the Difference between the ‘freepost’ and an ‘election address’
Nothing. The posted items have been historically and are still frequently referred to as the candidate’s ‘election address’ (the leaflet through which the candidate addresses their views to the electorate). That said, over the years the means and format of presenting views to the electorate have moved on, and there are often multiple elections on the same day. So to distinguish the item from local ‘election address’ leaflets and other communications LabourPrint refers to ‘freepost leaflets’.
Who is entitled to a ‘Freepost’
The freepost service entitles every candidate nominated at a Parliamentary election (UK, European and Scottish Parliaments, Welsh and Northern Ireland Assemblies) to send an item of mail conforming to a defined format to each voter on the electoral role.
Who pays and what is free?
Only the postage is free. The candidates (or their parties) pay for the printing of the items and the Royal mail delivers the items at no cost to the candidate/party. The Royal Mail is reimbursed for the postal costs from the Exchequer. In 2010 this cost just over £31.4 million – around 29% of the total cost of running the general election.
What happens when there are local elections at the same time as a Parliamentary election?
There is no free postage service for local elections in the UK, even when they are on the same day as a Parliamentary election.
Can we mention that there are two elections on the same day?
No. This is one of the most important freepost rules to observe. A freepost leaflet can only refer to the specific Parliamentary election and must not mention any other election or election candidate in any way.
What else can’t we say?
Content must be confined to the election. This rule was introduced after several enterprising types worked out that a £500 election deposit and some bargain basement printing seemed a good way to publicise the local wine warehouse (or whatever). As a result of this change election leaflets can’t carry advertising or sponsorship, for example. Leaflets must include an imprint (see below) and must follow the law as it would apply to any normally posted item.
But does anyone check the content?
Yes. Finished artwork (or a printed sample) of every freepost leaflet (including envelopes, if used) MUST be approved by the Royal Mail before it is accepted for distribution. Any mention of another election will lead to the rejection of the item.
What other rules apply to the freepost leaflet?
The weight and the ‘finished size’ (that means the dimensions of the leaflet when folded for delivery) are limited to between 140-240mm in length, 90-164mm in width and no thicker than 5mm. Each item must weigh no more than 60g.
What About Folding?
Folded leaflets need to “retain their presented format” – that is they can’t become easily unfolded. In practice this means machine folded items are fine but it is best to avoid unusual folds. Unfolded items must be only a single sheet. You can distribute multiple sheet items in envelops.
Why are some freeposts addressed and other not?
You can either deliver ONE individually addressed item to each voter on the electoral role OR you can ONE unaddressed item to every “delivery point” (letterbox) in the constituency. You can’t mix and match – it is one or the other.
Does every person have to get the same leaflet?
In the case of unaddressed freepost, yes. In the case of addressed freepost, no. You can send different batches of mail to different groups of voters. This rule enables you, for example, to send two or more freepost drops to households with more than one voter. Artwork for each different batch requires approval by Royal Mail.
Is that it? Have the Rules been finalised for 2015
Not as yet, but Royal Mail have indicated that only minor changes, if any, are expected. So the rules used at the 2014 European Elections will apply in large measure next year. There is a lot more detail, the most important of which will be in out next blog post. You can download the rules as they stand from Royal Mail here.
How does LabourPrint by Public Impact help Candidates and CLPs?
We provide freepost templates. If your artwork is based on these and complies with the law in general it will be approved by Royal Mail.
While the legal responsibility remains with your agent, we check your copy and let you know if there are any like problems that will prevent Royal Mail approval or any other obvious difficulty.
Once you have booked your slot with Royal Mail and you have signed off your artwork with us we will handle the necessary approval from Royal Mail.
We arrange the delivery of your printed freepost to Royal Mail direct in the format that they require.
We deliver on time, when we say.
With LabourPrint by Public Impact every CLP gets the same level of service.
For more information on our General Election Print service and to get the brochure click here
See our next blog post for more information on running a trouble-free freepost.