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Seven principles for safer canvassing: A guide for councillors and candidates

7 principles for safer canvassing with illustration of a letter going through a door letterbox
This guide outlines seven principles for safer canvassing and provides some helpful, practical hints for canvassers.


Canvassing is an integral aspect of the democratic process and a great way to campaign and engage with constituents.

Canvassing encourages voter registration, mobilises voters to participate and helps to ensure you know what issues are concerning your constituents. 

The Local Government Association is aware of the concerns expressed by councillors and candidates regarding possible instances of harassment during canvassing activities. This guide responds to these concerns, complementing the Civility in Public Life resources, the Be a Councillor campaign and the Councillors' guide to handling harassment, abuse and intimidation

This guide outlines seven principles for safe canvassing and builds on these to offer some helpful, practical hints for canvassers. We encourage councillors, local candidates and campaign coordinators to make adjustments for any disability or special need as appropriate. This guide is derived from a detailed analysis of over 17 guidelines sourced from various national and international institutions as well as political parties. If you are a member of a political group, you may well find they offer specific advice to their candidates, volunteers, and councillors. You should integrate their advice into the structure of canvassing activities.

Principles for safe canvassing

  • Be prepared, not scared: Regularly assess risks, seek available training and support, including advice from local police, parties, or council, and trust your instincts for personal safety during canvassing to ensure a confident and secure approach.
  • Focus on group safety: Whenever possible, canvass in groups or pairs for safety – and because it is more enjoyable! Inform others of your whereabouts if canvassing alone. Prioritise team safety by halting and discussing any incidents that may occur.
  • Actively communicate with the team and set periodic check-ins: Share canvassing plans with the team and trusted contacts, establishing regular check-ins for safety. 
  • Use technology to make canvassing safer: Use available technological aids like wearable devices and tracking apps for mobile phones. Get familiar with their emergency features to enhance safety while canvassing. Familiarise yourself with smartphone security functions beforehand and align technology choices with the risk assessment for canvassing.
  • Be security aware: Prioritise safety and security when canvassing. Try carrying only essentials and avoid going into residents’ homes. When available, follow party do-not-knock lists and update them if you encounter any problem.
  • Keep a record: Maintain a detailed incident log and report any uncomfortable situations encountered while canvassing. Sharing incident reports with both your party and the council/police ensures appropriate awareness and action.
  • Prioritise aftercare and set emergency protocols: Offer team support after any experiences of abuse or intimidation, prioritising aftercare. Debrief sessions should encourage sharing experiences and seeking support, focusing on both positive and negative encounters. Periodically review emergency response procedures.

Tips for safer canvassing

There are several ways councillors and local candidates can engage safely with people while canvassing.  In this section, we provide some suggestions for how to include the above-stated principles in the canvassing strategy. 

Be prepared, not scared

Canvassing is about listening and finding out people's concerns as well as how they vote. Most interactions with constituents are positive and rewarding. Integrating safety into the canvassing strategy from the start will make candidates and canvassers feel much more confident.

  • Be proactive and aware of potential risks by conducting periodic risk assessments. Councillors and local candidates may want to get actively involved in the planning of canvassing activities. Their knowledge of the local area is invaluable to foresee any risks or issues that might occur. 
  • Campaign coordinators should seek to ensure they are aware of any specific needs around disabilities that any members of the canvassing team might have, and to ensure these are taken into account – eg making sure they aren’t given canvassing routes that might be inaccessible or where they might not be able to easily remove themselves from if they encounter a hostile situation. 
  • Make sure to look into relevant training offered by your party or your council and make sure you access available sources of support. 
  • Seek advice from the local police. Local police forces may be able to provide a tailored response to candidates including providing security briefings and assigning single points of contact for candidate security. Not all police forces are equally responsive and set up for this, but some even have dedicated officers to liaise with candidates. If you’re not sure this is the case in your area, contact the police on the non-emergency line or email your local police team.
  • Follow your instincts. If something doesn’t feel right, remove yourself from the situation and/or reach out for help.

Example: Councillors know that talking about politics can be tricky, especially if there are controversial issues locally. A councillor is part of a team canvassing in an area where residents are upset about some planning decisions. Knowing that, the councillor is aware that some residents will use the opportunity to talk about their concerns. They let the canvassing team know about this, so volunteers are also aware of the local context. The councillor and canvassing volunteers go there prepared to listen. Listening often solves half the problem and helps to find common ground. This attitude helps break the ice and helps establish rapport with the voter. Remember that while abuse should not be tolerated, if residents have an issue they appreciate when you listen and try your best to understand their concerns. 

Focus on group safety

Councillors and local candidates are likely to have a positive experience canvassing. While on some occasions councillors and local candidates may canvass alone, it is advised to campaign in groups or pairs, enhancing the overall canvassing experience. Some suggestions to focus on group safety include: 

  • Adopt a buddy system and try avoiding canvassing alone. It is also more fun to canvass with others. But if you do canvass alone, make sure other people know where you are and when you are planning to return. Make sure you check-in when you have safely finished canvassing.
  • Ensure that the team has accurate details of the route to follow and that the contact details of all canvassers are up-to-date and easy to find. 
  • Avoid leaving canvassers who are under 18 unaccompanied. Encourage experienced canvassers to pair up with those who are canvassing for the first time, or don’t know the area.
  • Ensure that the team feels safe. If an incident occurs, stop the canvassing session and talk about it. It is good to get it off your chest and to discuss how to handle a similar situation if it arises. 

Example: A councillor goes canvassing on behalf of the local party candidate. They are paired with a junior volunteer. They are provided with details of their route ahead of time and keep the coordinator informed of their location and expected finish time. The councillor helps the volunteer get experience with and confidence in door knocking. Once they have finished, they let the coordinator know that all is well.

Actively communicate with the team and set periodic check-ins

Open and frequent communication within the campaign team is vital during canvassing activities. Regularly sharing plans, experiences and schedules ensures everyone is aware of the strategy, allowing for swift action or support if needed. 

  • Communicate canvassing plans with the team and with trusted contacts. Share detailed and updated plans with the team to ensure everyone knows the routes and schedules. Additionally, let trusted contacts know where you plan to be. This provides an extra layer of security and assistance if necessary.
  • Ensure regular check-ins during canvassing activities to help maintain safety. For example, the team could arrange to meet at the end of every street or block of flats. These periodic updates allow for swift action or support in case of any unexpected incidents or concerns and can be arranged during the canvassing briefing. This helps ensure everyone knows where everyone else is and that no-one feels isolated or gets separated from the group. 
  • Establish a code word with your canvassing partner to use if you or they feel unsafe. This serves as a discreet signal allowing for a quick response or assistance, or simply to help to move on from a situation that is becoming uncomfortable. 

Example: A councillor goes canvassing with a volunteer. They plan the route ahead of time and inform the coordinator. They share their contact details with the coordinator. They are going to canvass in a new block of flats. As the flats are newly built, there is little information about residents. They agree that if one of them feels uncomfortable, they will use the code word or phrase and leave the place. 

Use technology to make canvassing safer

Councillors and local candidates may want to use technology to increase safety during canvassing activities. The market now offers multiple options at different price ranges to choose from, including some free apps. Here are some suggestions: 

  • Consider the use of technological aids like personal alarms and phone trackers to help to identify someone’s location during emergencies. Some examples include Life360 or bSafe. However, there are plenty of options in the market. Some councils will provide wearable alarms or over devices for councillors. Ask your democratic services or party group if these are available.
  • Most smartphones already have embedded security functions and trackers. Before going canvassing, councillors, candidates and volunteers should familiarise themselves with their device’s emergency functions and make sure they are switched on if appropriate.
  • The kind of technology that is appropriate to be used during canvassing can be determined during the risk assessment phase, for example, will the team normally be within sight of each other along a road, or are houses set back from the street? 
  • Campaign coordinators are encouraged to ensure disabled canvassers have access to appropriate technical support. 

Example: An independent councillor needs to canvass alone. They download one of the many security apps on the market and set it in advance to contact emergency services in case of need. The councillor feels safer as they know that they can ask for help if needed. 

Be security aware

Being security aware means being conscious of potential risks, threats, or vulnerabilities during canvassing and taking appropriate measures to mitigate or address them effectively. Councillors and local candidates should remain attentive, informed and proactive in identifying and responding to potential security concerns to ensure their safety and that of other canvassers. Here are some ideas on how to be security aware: 

  • Canvassing in the day is usually preferable to canvassing at night. Also, voters often don’t like being disturbed after dark. However, in the winter or on polling day it may be necessary to campaign after sunset. If canvassing after sunset, take extra notice of your safety measures and take precautions, for example by carrying only essentials and leaving valuables behind. Try to prioritise canvassing in poorly-lit or remote areas for daylight hours.
  • Avoid going into residents' houses or flats, even if invited. People may want to show a problem they have (for example, with damp or overcrowding). Politely decline and say that you can’t come in right now. You can, however, offer to take notes on any problems residents have and refer these to the council. You could also offer to come back another time with someone else. 
  • Parties may have do-not-knock lists of properties to avoid. They can be shared on paper or via campaign apps such as MiniVAN or Contact Creator. In the case of experiencing aggressive, threatening behaviour or other issues, be sure to update that information in the app or make a note on the sheets so all members of the canvassing team and future canvassers can be aware of potential risks. 
  • Familiarise yourself with the do-not knock lists before going canvassing. 

Example: Beware of the dog! Territorial dogs in gardens or houses can pose a problem when canvassing. Do-not-knock lists will often include a record of houses to avoid for this reason. More generally, use common sense when approaching properties. If it doesn't look right, just move on to the next one.

Keep a record 

Councillors and local candidates should keep a record of events of abuse, harassment, or intimidation during canvassing if they occur. Good record-keeping includes noting details like the date, time, location, individuals involved, the nature of the incident, and any relevant contextual information. This record serves as a factual account of occurrences and helps in reporting, analysing patterns, or seeking appropriate support or interventions, as well as being an early warning for other canvassers. 

  • Trust your instincts and walk away from confrontational or uncomfortable situations.
  • Maintain an incident log and promptly report any incidents encountered during canvassing activities. Don't just share incident reports with your party: if the incident is serious, make sure the council and/or the police are made aware.

Example: Two councillors go canvassing together. They normally avoid canvassing at night, but today, this is unavoidable. They enter a block of flats that is badly lit. The second door they knock on, they are received by a resident who treats them with hostility that is borderline aggressive. The pair of councillors fill an incident log and report it to the campaign coordinator, who adds the address to the do-not-knock list. 

Prioritise aftercare and set emergency protocols

Councillors, local candidates, and others involved in canvassing activities should have access to the necessary support and assistance should they face abuse, intimidation, or harassment. This means offering emotional support, counselling, or resources to help them cope with such incidents.  

  • Prioritise aftercare for yourself and the team, offering support after facing abuse, intimidation or harassment. Experiencing abuse or harassment on the doorstep can be very upsetting and unsettling, even for experienced canvassers and councillors. Don’t put anyone under pressure to continue canvassing after they’ve experienced an incident of this sort.
  • Make sure to debrief: Encourage sharing experiences (both good and bad), seek support when needed, and re-familiarise yourself with procedures for safer canvassing and consider whether new risk assessments are needed in the light of experience.
  • Consider including safety and after-care information in canvassing briefing materials. 

Example: A canvassing pair go to an unknown area. One resident owns a dog that started barking aggressively. The owner does not try to calm the dog, which scares the canvassers. They decide to leave the area and re-group. Over coffee, they revisit the incident and share it with other teams. They feel better as they receive suggestions from their colleagues on how to avoid or deal with unexpected situations like these. They are reassured that they did the right thing in removing themselves from the situation. Details of the incident are logged and the address is added to the party’s do-not-knock lists.

Physical top tips

  • Make sure your mobile is fully charged when you go campaigning, take a battery pack if your phone loses charge quickly.
  • Don’t use your fingers to push leaflets through doors if possible because of the risk of ordinary injury and also dogs – you don’t know what’s on the other side of the door, many people use an implement like a wooden spatula to push leaflets through.
  • Make sure you always have a clear exit route and you know where the nearest safe place is, preferably somewhere you’ve agreed with your fellow canvassers or a well-populated location.
  • When door knocking, take a step back from the door after knocking and angle yourself so you are out of arms-reach and have a clear view of the doorway and into the property; this can help you identify any risks when the person opens the door and also makes you look less intimidating to the resident.
  • Carry a rape alarm which you can use to signal for help and also confuse an attacker – you are very unlikely to need to use this, but it could be invaluable in an emergency.