Website of the UK government

Please note that this website has a UK government accesskeys system.

Public services all in one place

Main menu

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Trade union rules and membership register

Find out about a trade union's duties around their rules and membership register. For example, they have to give a copy of their rules to anyone who asks for one. They must also keep an up-to-date membership register.

Trade union rules and membership contract

If you join a trade union, you enter into a binding contract with it. That contract is the trade union’s rules and sets out the terms and conditions of your membership.

As a member of a trade union, you agree to keep to the contract in the rules and your trade union agrees to treat you in-line with them.

Access to a trade union's rules

Your trade union must make a copy of its rules available to you, or to anybody who asks for a copy. This should be either free or for a reasonable charge. The rules may be included in a membership handbook, although often they are published on the trade union’s website.

Trade unions must deposit a copy of their rules as part of their annual return to the Certification Officer.

If you think your trade union has broken its rules, you may be entitled to complain to the Certification Officer. However, before doing this, you should try to sort out the issue through your trade union’s internal procedures.

There may be a time limit on making a complaint to the Certification Officer. To complain, you must have been a member of the trade union at the time when, you believe, it broke its rules. The Certification Officer can give you more information.

It is also possible to bring court proceedings against your trade union for breach of contract if it breaks its rules. However, you should take legal advice before doing this. You cannot complain to the Certification Officer and the courts about the same breach.

Membership register

Trade unions must keep an accurate and up-to-date register of their members’ names and addresses. You are entitled, on request, to:

  • find out from the register, for free, whether there is an entry about you
  • be supplied, for free or for a reasonable charge, with a copy of any entry on the register about you

Disqualification from holding office

It is a criminal offence for a trade union to fail to supply copies of the trade union rules when asked.

If a trade union fails to do this, they must make sure the person responsible cannot hold any important elected positions in the trade union for five years (eg member of the executive).

How to make a complaint

You can complain to either the court or the Certification Officer (but not both), if you believe your trade union has:

  • not allowed you to inspect its register of members or financial records
  • allowed a disqualified person to hold an important elected position

Access keys