FAQs: the Union Flag
Those with questions about flag protocol which are not addressed below should contact the Officer in Waiting.
Q. How should the Union Flag be flown?
A. The Union Flag must be flown the correct way up. This is with the wider diagonal white stripe above the red diagonal stripe in the half nearest to the flag pole. The wider diagonal white stripe should be above the red diagonal stripe at the top left hand side of the Flag nearest the flag pole.
Q. What is half-mast?
A. Half-mast means the flag is flown two-thirds of the way up the flagpole with at least the height of the flag between the top of the flag and the top of the flag pole. If more than one flag is flown, they should all be raised at half-mast or not flown at all. Flags of foreign nations should not be flown unless their country is also observing mourning.
Q. When should the Union Flag be flown at half-mast?
A. Occasions on which the Union Flag is to be flown at half-mast:
- from the announcement of the death of the Sovereign until the funeral
In the following cases, half-mastings will be by special command from Her Majesty:
- the death of a member or near relative of the Royal Family or the funeral of members of the Royal Family
- the funerals of foreign Rulers
- the funerals of Prime Ministers and ex-Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom
- the funerals of First Ministers and ex-First Ministers of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland (unless otherwise commanded by the Sovereign, this only applies to flags in their respective countries)
- any other occasions as commanded
The Department of Culture, Media and Sport will inform Government departments of any other occasions when Her Majesty has given a special command.
Local government bodies are permitted to fly the Union Flag at half-mast to mark local as well as national commemorations or losses.
Q. What times should I fly the flag?
A. Any individual can fly the Union Flag at any time. The Union Flag may be flown on UK Government buildings all year round. Those wishing to fly the Union Flag on the designated fixed flag flying days should only fly it from 8am until sunset. The flying of flags on Government buildings in Northern Ireland is regulated by the Flags Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2000 as amended by the Flags Regulations (Northern Ireland) (Amendment) 2002. The flying of flags on Government buildings in Scotland is a devolved matter - for details of the curent guidance see here. The Welsh Assembly Commission has published a protocol for the flying of flags at the National Assembly; decisions about the flying of flags on Welsh Government buildings are the responsibility of the First Minister.
Q. Which is the superior position?
A. It is usual for the Union Flag to be flown in a superior position:
Where there are two or more flagpoles parallel to the building line
It is usual for the Union Flag to be the first flag on the left of an observer facing the main entrance of the building. The remaining flags then appear in order of precedence from left to right.
Where there are two or more flagpoles on the forecourt of a building but at an angle to the main entrance
It is usual for the Union Flag to be flown on the outermost pole when the flagpoles are situated to the left of the main entrance and on the innermost pole when the flagpoles are to the right of the main entrance.
If only one flag is to be flown and there are two flagpoles
It is usual for the Union Flag to be flown on the flagpole to the observer's left. If there are more than two flagpoles, the Union Flag should be flown as near as possible to the centre. This only applies when the other flagpoles remain empty.
If one flagpole is higher than the rest
The Union Flag can fly from that flagpole but no other national flags can be flown on the other flagpoles. These can still be used for more junior flags such as county and house flags. Alternatively the higher flagpole can be left empty and the remaining flagpoles used as if it did not exist. (In general when siting flagpoles it is a good idea to keep them all at the same level to avoid these protocol problems.)
Q. In what condition should the Union Flag be flown?
A. Departments of Her Majesty's Government, local government bodies, and others, should ensure that the Union Flag and national flags are in good repair and unsoiled. To fly a flag which is in poor repair or dirty is to show disrespect for the nations that it represents.
Q. Could I fly a red ensign on Merchant Navy Day?
A. Merchant Navy Day, on 3 September, is not one of the appointed days for flying the Union Flag from UK Government buildings which has been agreed by the Royal Household. It is a specific event that has its own flag. UK Government Departments with an interest in Merchant Navy Day may fly the Red Ensign from their buildings on 3 September.
Q. When can the public and non-governmental organisations fly the Union Flag?
A. Individuals, local authorities and other organizations may fly the Union Flag whenever they wish, subject to compliance with any local planning requirements.
Q. Do I need planning permission?
A. Under Schedule 1 Class H of the Town and Country Planning (Control of Advertisements) (England) Regulations 2007 and amendment 2012, the following flags can be flown without consent as long as they satisfy the standard conditions for the display of advertisements generally and the conditions and limitations set out within Class H itself:
- Any country's national flag, civil ensign or civil air ensign - including any of the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man and any British Overseas Territory
- The flag of the Commonwealth, the European Union, the United Nations or any other international organisation of which the United Kingdom is a member
- A flag of any island, county, district, borough, burgh, parish, city, town or village within the United Kingdom
- The flag of the Black Country, East Anglia, Wessex, any Part of Lincolnshire, any Riding of Yorkshire or any historic county within the United Kingdom
- The flag of Saint David
- The flag of Saint Patrick
- The flag of any administrative area within any country outside the United Kingdom
- Any flag of Her Majesty's forces
- The Armed Forces Day flag
A number of categories of flag may be flown without consent, subject to certain restrictions regarding the size of the flag, the size of characters on the flag, and the number and location of the flags. Categories of flag that can now be flown:
- House flag - flag is allowed to display the name, emblem, device or trademark of the company (or person) occupying the building, or can refer to a specific event of limited duration that is taking place in the building from which the flag is flown
- Any sports club (but cannot include sponsorship logos)
- The horizontal striped rainbow flag, such as the "Pride" Flag
- Specified award schemes - Eco-Schools, Queens Awards for Enterprise and Investors in People
The restrictions on flying this second category of flag relate to where the flagpole (flagstaff) is located on a building or within the grounds of a building.
A flag of the Blue Flag award scheme may be flown from a flagpole on part of a beach or marina; and a flag of the Green Flag Award scheme or Green Flag Community Award scheme may be flown on part of a park, garden or other green space.
The regulations are not intended to permit the flying of armorial flags or flags bearing coats of arms; for these please contact the Officer in Waiting for advice. It is unlawful to fly or use a flag of the arms of any local authority save on sites or premises occupied by that authority.
Restrictions apply within conservation areas, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, National Parks, the Broads and areas of special control. For further advice about planning permission around flags and also flagpoles please contact your local authority.
Q. Where are the official records of flags held?
A. The only official repository for flags is the College of Arms. The flying of flags on land falls under the authority of the Earl Marshal. Military flags and flags flown at sea fall under the authority of the Ministry of Defence. The Inspectorate of Regimental Colours, and of RAF Badges, is based at the College of Arms.
Q. How do I enquire further?
A. Further questions on the matter of the flying of flags should be addressed to:
Officer in Waiting
College of Arms
Queen Victoria Street
020 7248 2762