Honours are awarded by the Queen, on advice from the Prime Minister and specialist subject committees. Most awards arise from nominations made by the public. The steps to award an honour, and to remove one are set out.
What are honours?
The honours system is a way to recognise people who have:
- made achievements in public life
- committed themselves to serving and helping Britain.
The people honoured will usually have made life better for other people or be outstanding at what they do. Award of an honour provides a way to recognise exceptional service or achievement. Honours are generally highly valued by the recipients, and also by their families, friends and local communities.
Honours are awarded by the Queen, but the majority are on recommendations made to her from the Prime Minister or other senior Government Ministers.
These recommendations arise from nominations, made by organisations or members of the general public, familiar with the work of the candidate. Who gets an honour, and the honour they get, is decided by one of a number of subject based honours committees. These committees advise the Prime Minister.
What can you get an honour for?
The government provides guidance on the honours system. This sets out why people might get an award. People get honours for achievements like:
- making a difference to their community or field of work
- enhancing Britain’s reputation
- long-term voluntary service
- innovation and entrepreneurship
- changing things, with an emphasis on achievement
- improving life for people less able to help themselves
- displaying moral courage
Honours are given to people involved in fields including:
- community, voluntary and local services
- arts and media
- science and technology
- business and the economy
- civil or political service
Who can make a nomination?
Anyone can nominate someone for an honour, but the system does not support self-nominations.
Many nominations are made by members of the public or by an organisation familiar with the work of an individual. A Government department may also nominate a person doing good work in its sphere of interest.
The nomination process is set out on the Honours pages of GOV.UK website, with links to the nomination form and guidance on completing this.
Nominations for civilian gallantry awards can also made by the public, or by professional bodies. There is no dedicated gallantry form, but the standard nomination form may be used.
What evidence is required when writing a nomination?
The Cabinet Office guidance advises that there is no set way to write a nomination. The guidance stresses the need for the nominator to have personal knowledge of the candidate for an honour and to provide evidence of exceptional achievement.
The guidance also points out the importance of exceptional achievement, not just someone doing their job. Your citation should describe what is special about your candidate’s achievements and show memorably and persuasively how and where they have made a difference.
The nominations process for UK residents is managed by the Honours and Appointments Secretariat, part of the Cabinet Office government department. They are also able to provide advice on how the process works.
Can a Member of Parliament make a nomination?
Constituents may write to their MP requesting that someone be nominated or asking for support for a nomination. An MP may make a nomination, as with any member of the public. The MP would have to be familiar with the work or voluntary role the candidate is carrying out.
As part of the nomination process at least two letters of support are required to accompany a completed nomination form. An MP may be asked to submit one of these. Letters of support should be provided from people with first-hand knowledge of the nominee who can endorse their contribution or supply additional information.
So the important factor is the relevance of the evidence and knowledge about the nominee, rather than where that support originates.
Who decides on award of an honour?
Nominations are considered by an independent committee of experts in the field of work. There are currently nine specialist committees. There is also a Main Honours Committee, which makes the final selections and deals with overall policy. Committees are made up of civil servants and a majority of independent members.
How are nominees checked?
Some checking of nominees is carried out, across government Departments, to minimise the risk that an award could bring the honours system into disrepute. This would include a check with HM Revenue and Customs and of criminal records.
How long does it take to consider a nomination?
A person or organisation submitting a nomination will receive an acknowledgement from the relevant Government Department. They may also be asked by the honours committee to supply further evidence to support or clarify the nomination. The process of consideration can take 12 to 18 months, so a nominator may not hear anything for quite a while.
How does a recipient know they are to receive an honour?
Recipients are notified by letter that the Queen intends to award them an honour. They are asked to respond to accept formally. Recipients are also asked not to disclose the award until details are published in an honours list, as this information is confidential.
How are honours made public?
Honours Lists are published at least twice a year, in June for the Queen’s Official Birthday and in December for New Year. Honours Lists are officially published in the London Gazette. They are also issued to the press, both national and local and are available on the GOV.UK website.
How can an honour be removed?
There is a process for removal of an honour, after it has been awarded, called forfeiture. The Sovereign may, on the advice of Ministers, cancel an award if the holder is considered unworthy to retain it. The object of forfeiture is to preserve the integrity of the honours system.
There is a Forfeiture Committee, which is an independent advisory group of senior civil servants and independent members. The Committee makes a recommendation to The Queen, through the Prime Minister. Their discussions are confidential. If an honour is forfeited, this is published in the London Gazette.
Why might an honour be removed?
An honour can be taken away if someone is sentenced to prison for at least 3 months for a criminal offence or censured or struck off by a professional or regulatory body for something directly relevant to their honour (for instance a doctor being struck off).
Other reasons for forfeiture can also be considered. The overall criterion is whether the honours system has been brought into disrepute.
How can a member of the public suggest that an honour be removed?
A member of the public, or an MP, may write the Cabinet Office to explain how the person may have brought the honours system into disrepute. The contact details are:
Honours and Appointments Secretariat
1 Horse Guards Road
The Commons Library does not intend the information in these articles to address the specific circumstances of any particular individual. We have published it to support the work of MPs.
You should not rely upon it as legal or professional advice, or as a substitute for it. We do not accept any liability whatsoever for any errors, omissions or misstatements contained herein.
You should consult a suitably qualified professional if you require specific advice or information is required. This Library briefing provides information about sources of legal advice and help.