Press Release: Certification Officer Annual Report 2016-2017

Certification Officer

July 18
10:40 2017

The Annual Report of the Certification Officer, Gerard Walker, was laid before Parliament today 18 July 2017. The report describes the work of the Certification Officer over the year 1 April 2016 to 31 March 2017 and provides detailed information on all trade unions and employers associations. The statistical information it contains is drawn from the annual returns received during the reporting period, which relate mainly to the year ending 31 December 2015.

Mr Cockburn retired from the position of the Certification Officer on 30 June 2016. No permanent replacement has been appointed by the Secretary of State. Until such time as a permanent replacement is appointed, Gerard Walker has been appointed as the Certification Officer on an interim basis.


  • The Trade Union Act 2016 received royal assent on 4 May 2016. To date three sections of the Act, that relate to the work of the Certification Officer, have been implemented:Section 7 Information to Certification Officer about industrial action etc;Section 11: Opting in by union members to contribute to political funds; andSection 12: Unions annual return to include details of political expenditure

All these provisions were commenced on 1 March 2017. Further details can be found in the Annual Report.


  • Trade union membership has continued to decrease for the seventh successive year. Figures reported to the Certification Officer show a membership of 6,865,056. This is a decrease of 83,669 members or 1.2% on the figures for the previous reporting period. The 13 largest unions account for over four fifths of the total trade union membership (5.81 million members or 84.7%) (Introduction, Chapter 4 and Appendix 4).

  • The number of trade unions has also continued its historic decrease, notwithstanding the modest increase in 2014-15. There were 150 trade unions on the Certification Officers lists and schedules at the end of this reporting period, compared to 158 at the end of the previous period. Whilst one trade union was added to the list, nine were removed. The number of employers associations continues to decrease. At the end of this reporting period there were 91 employers associations, one less than the previous period. (Introduction, Chapter 1).

  • The total funds (net assets) of trade unions as reported in this period increased by 42% to 1,520 million. The unusually large variation from the previous period is in part a reflection of the effect of the introduction of accounting standard FRS 102 which became Effective for accounting periods beginning on or after 1 January 2015. The 13 largest unions, that each have membership in excess of 100,000 members, had average net assets of 61 million (Chapter 4 and Appendix 4).

  • The total sum contained in the political funds of the trade unions at the end of this period was 31.7 million. This is down 1.3 million, from 33.0 million the previous year. The largest political fund was that of Unite the Union, which was valued at around 14.1 million (Chapter 7 and Appendix 9).


Over the past reporting year I determined 39 complaints. Of these, 33 complaints alleged that a union had breached its own rules. The other 6 related to alleged breaches of statute. A summary of these decisions can be found in Chapters 3, 4, 8 and 9 of this report. I determined a case which challenged the election of the general secretary of URTU. In addition a case challenging the election of the general secretary of UNISON was heard by Assistant Certification Officer Her Honour Judge Mary Stacey, the decision was issued on 22 May 2017. In the case involving URTU I ordered that the General Secretary stand down and a new election be held.


The law relating to the way members of trade unions contribute to the political funds of their unions has been amended to favour a system of opting in rather that requiring members to opt out of making an otherwise automatic contribution. The government has set a transition period of 12 months beginning 1st March 2017. Following the end of the transition period new members joining a union with a political fund or all members of a union which establishes a new political fund will have to opt in if they wish to contribute to a political fund. To comply with the changes trade unions with political funds will have to amend their rules relating to these funds and the amended rules must be approved by me before the end of the transition period. New guidance and model rules have been published on my website;


The Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act 2014 introduced new provisions relating to the membership register of trade unions. The new provisions, incorporated into section 24 of the 1992 Act, impose a requirement on trade unions to submit to the Certification Officer annually a Membership Audit Certificate at the same as the unions annual return. The new provisions also provide further powers to the Certification Officer to investigate concerns that the provisions of section 24 are not being or have not been compline with by a trade union. These powers came into force on 1 June 2016.

In this reporting year 22 membership audit certificates were due and all of these were received. No circumstances arose leading the Certification Officer to use his investigatory powers under section 24 of the 1992 Act.

Notes to editors:

  1. The annual report of the Certification Officer for Trade Unions and Employers Associations was published and laid before Parliament on 18 July 2017. It is available on the Certification Office website:

  2. The Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992, as amended, sets out the Certification Officers statutory responsibilities. Section 258 requires the Certification Officer to make an annual report on his activities to the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and to the Chair of the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas). The report must be laid before Parliament and published.

  3. The Certification Officer is appointed by the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and resourced through Acas, but is independent of any direction from Ministers or Acas. Gerard Walker was appointed to the post on 1 July 2016, on an interim basis. Gerard Walker was previously the Assistant Certification Officer.

  4. The Certification Officers website contains every decision made by the Certification Officer since 1975. It contains all the annual returns from trade unions and employers associations since 2012, with links to The National Archives website for returns from between 2003 and 2012. It also contains guidance on various aspects of the Certification Officers functions, copies or links to Annual Reports going back to 2001-2002 and a list of trade unions and employers associations.

  5. The Certification Officer invites you to subscribe to his email service to receive notice of any new items posted to the website. Visit the website:, to subscribe.

  6. The Certification Officer has reported the following figures for trade union membership over the past 10 reporting years.

Year TU Membership Changes from previous year
TU Membership %
16-17 6,865,056 -83,669 -1.2
15-16 6,948,725 -61,802 -0.88
14-15 7,010,527 -75,589 -1.1
13-14 7,086,116 -111,299 -1.5
12-13 7,197,415 -63,795 -0.9
11-12 7,261,210 -67,695 -0.9
10-11 7,328,905 -58,993 -0.8
09-10 7,387,898 -268,258 -3.5
08-09 7,656,156 +28,463 +0.4
07-08 7,627,693 + 24,851 + 0.3

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