Press Release: Certification Officer Annual Report 2017-2018

Certification Officer

October 11
09:16 2018

The Annual Report of the Certification Officer, Sarah Bedwell, was laid before Parliament today 11 October 2018. The report describes the work of the Certification Officer over the year 1 April 2017 to 31 March 2018 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 2016.

Sarah Bedwell was appointed by the Secretary of State on 1 January 2018. The report was prepared together with Gerard Walker who held the position on an interim basis until 31 December 2017 and has since been appointed as Assistant Certification Officer.


  • Figures reported to the Certification Officer show total trade union membership of 6,875,231. This is an increase of 10,175 members or 0.15%. However, this included 147,330 retired members of UNISON that had not been included in previous totals. Without this figure the total figure would have been 6,727,901 or a decrease of 2% on the figures for the previous reporting period. This continues the decrease in union membership for the ninth successive year. The 13 largest unions account for over four fifths of the total trade union membership (5.82 million members or 84.7%) (Introduction, Chapter 4 and Appendix 4).

  • The number of trade unions has also continued to decrease, notwithstanding the modest increase in 2014-15. There were 146 trade unions on the Certification Officers lists and schedules at the end of this reporting period, compared to 150 at the end of the previous period. Whilst three trade unions were added to the list, seven were removed. At the end of this reporting period there were 91 employers associations, the same number as at the end of the previous reporting period. (Introduction, Chapter 1).

  • The total funds (net assets) of trade unions as reported in this period decreased 14% to 1,307 million. The 13 largest unions, that each have membership in excess of 100,000 members, had average net assets of 53 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 34 million. This is up 2.3 million, from 31.7 million the previous year. The largest political fund was that of Unite the Union, which was valued at around 14.5 million (Chapter 7 and Appendix 9).

  • On 1 September 2017 the National Education Union was formed by amalgamation of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) and Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), two unions who at the end of the previous reporting period had a combined membership of around 565,583.


Over the past reporting year 55 complaints were determined. This compares to 39 complaints in the previous reporting year. Of these, 52 complaints alleged that a union had breached its own rules. The other 3 related to alleged breaches of statute. A summary of these decisions can be found in Chapters 3, 4, 8 and 9 of this report. The issue that attracted the most interest was the decision made by Her Honour Judge Mary Stacey in her role as Assistant Certification Officer to hear the complaints of Mr Burgess and others against UNISON. The complaints related to the General Secretary election in 2015. There were multiple applicants and 16 complaints that required a preliminary hearing and three full days of evidence and submissions. Following this, the ACO made a single declaration that the union had breached its own rules relating to the election; she considered it inappropriate to make an enforcement order on the basis that it would be disproportionately punitive, in response to the breach found, to order the General Secretary election to be run again.

During the reporting year, a number of complaints arising out of the General Secretary election in 2017 were raised against Unite the Union by two applicants, Gerard Coyne and Richard Brooks. The Certification Officer appointed Jeffrey Burke QC to hear these complaints as Assistant Certification Officer. Following hearings between March and June 2018, the Assistant Certification Officer dismissed all 10 complaints. The decisions can be accessed on the breach of union rules section of our website.


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.


New duties to report on political expenditure and to provide information about industrial action apply to the reporting periods which begin after 1 March 2017. For the majority of trade unions this will mean that they will provide this information, for the first time, in their annual returns to me for the period ending 31 December 2018 which should be provided to me before 1 June 2019. In preparation for this my team have amended the template which trade unions use to report to this office so that unions can provide the additional information required


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. New members joining a union with a political fund on or after 1 March 2018 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 had to amend their rules relating to these funds and the amended rules must have been approved by me before 1 March 2018. All rule changes were approved for all trade unions wishing to retain a political fund during this period.


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 153 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 11 October 2018. 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. Sarah Bedwell was appointed to the post on 1 January 2018.

  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.

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