After David Cameron announced his decision to send out leaflets to every UK houshold pushing for 'remain' votes in June's EU referendum, the nation was furious.

It would cost more than £9.3 million (34p per household) in total to print and deliver leaflets to 27 million homes. The bill would be set at £458,500 to produce and an astonishing £5.94 million to print and deliver the leaflets across the UK. However, £2.89 million was set aside and spent on the digital promotion and accompanying website. 

Leaflets are being distributed in England and will reach the rest of the UK’s letterboxes following devolved elections on 5 May. 

Public money vs self-funding

After being decided by the Electoral Commission on 14 April, each official side will be able to spend up to £7 million but it must be self-funded (ie not from the taxpayer).

As for the taxpayer's bill, both leading sides will get a grant of up to £600,000. The Electoral Commission says can be used for certain spending like administrative costs, producing campaign broadcasts and making leaflets for voters.

Each campaign also receives free benefits which will also cost public money. These include:

  • A free mailing of aforementioned leaflets to voters. It only covers delivery by Royal Mail and excludes any spending on production
  • Free referendum campaign broadcasts
  • A free dedicated page in an information booklet sent to households by the Electoral Commission
  • Use of certain public buildings for meetings

The £600,000 figure is intended to reflect the equivalent in today’s money to what campaigns in the 1975 EU referendum got.

The government can get away with spending more than £9 million as it isn’t treated as a campaign group. However, it is barred from making any new spending or policy announcements after the ‘Purdah’ (veil) period, 28 days before the referendum. This falls on 27 May.

That said, some “factual information” regarding costs and benefits of EU membership will be released in the final month before voting, which is a slight bending of normal Purdah rules.

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Campaign spending boost

Political parties’ eligible spend is relative to their share of the vote in the last general election. Conservatives get £7 million, Labour £5.5 million, UKIP £4 million and Liberal Democrats £3 million.

Smaller parties like the SNP, Green, DUP and Plaid Cymru have £700,000 each.

As most political parties are in favour of staying in the EU, it can give the 'remain' camp up to an estimated £26.6 million while 'leave' could get £11.7 million overall.

Anyone else can spend up to £10,000 on their preferred campaign, or £700,000 if they register with the Electoral Commission.

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How much will the referendum itself cost?

The estimated cost of the referendum itself stands at £142.4 million, according to cabinet office minister John Penrose. This goes towards running polling stations, counting votes, organising postal voting and providing polling cards. 

Part of it covers the grants for the official campaign groups as well as postal delivery of their campaign leaflets.

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