UK Flag Flying Protocol: The government regulates the standard rules and instructions for flying ensigns.
That includes the laws for flying the Union Flag – also called the Union Jack Flag – and three other national flags of England, Scotland, and Wales.
Flag Flying Conditions
The wide range of large advertising flag banners can be emotive symbols. They get used to boost local and national identities. Flag flying also helps to strengthen community cohesion.
As such, the UK Government made several law changes to flag flying regulations in 2012. New rules widened the types of flags you can fly in England.
Since then, British controls over flag etiquette have become much more liberalized. The lifting of the ban signifies how the subject has become more tolerated and less controversial.
Nonetheless, some official commemorative events and celebratory situations still require formal consent from the local planning authority. Yet, the proper flag flying protocol for many other circumstances means permission is not needed.
UK Rules for Flying Flags
The rules on flying flags in the United Kingdom fall subject to some standard conditions. As such, all flags flown must:
- Be properly maintained and kept in a safe condition. They should not impair the overall visual appearance of the site. Flags should be removed with due care when required to do so by local planning authorities.
- Have permission from the owner of any site on which they are displayed. That includes the Highway Authority if it is flown on highway land.
- Not obscure (or hinder) the interpretation of official road, rail, waterway, or aircraft signs. Flags must not create any hazardous situation in relation to the use of these types of transport.
Following the compliance of these standard conditions is law. Even so, there are three (3) different categories of consent for flying flags in the UK:
- Flags which can be flown without consent of the local planning authority.
- Flags which do not need consent provided they comply with further restrictions (deemed consent).
- Flags which require consent (termed express consent).
Note: The main section about your legal rights and legislation covers extra topics (e.g. civil rights and human rights).
1. Flags Not Requiring Consent
Previous law amendments and new regulations now allow for a wider range of national, sub-national, community, and international flags. The full list of flags that do not require consent includes:
- The national flag, civil ensign, or the civil air ensign of any country.
- The flag of Saint David or 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.
- 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.
Note: Flying the British flag (the Union Jack Flag) is not illegal in 2022. The flag institute recognises the flags of St George and St Andrew as the national flags of England and Scotland respectively. But, they list those of St David and St Patrick ‘separately’ because they do not fall into the usual category of a country’s national flag.
The flags (or their flagpoles) must not display any advertisement or subject matter in addition to the actual design of the flag.
New regulations allow the attachment of a black mourning ribbon to either the flag or the flagpole. This applies to those flown at half-mast or those projecting outward at an angle from the side of a building.
Use of the word ‘country’ in the list includes any of the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man, and any British Overseas Territory.
Can I Fly the English Flag (St George’s Cross)?
Many people asked whether it is illegal to fly the St George Flag in England. They felt discouraged to express their pride during the FIFA World Cup and other sporting events.
In fact, it is legal to fly the flag of St George under UK flag laws. But, the person who flies the English flag must have permission from the owner of the site. It must be flown in a safe condition and not cause any danger (e.g. obscuring official road traffic signs).
As a flag flier you would need the permission of the site owner to display any flags (e.g. public houses). Property owners have the right to disallow flags in their buildings or on any vehicles that they own.
Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986
Regulation 30 (cited from legislation.gov.uk).
- Every motor vehicle shall be so designed and constructed that the driver thereof while controlling the vehicle can at all times have a full view of the road and traffic ahead of the motor vehicle.
- Instead of complying with the requirement of paragraph (1) a vehicle may comply with Community Directive 77/649, 81/643 or, in the case of an agricultural motor vehicle, 79/1073.
- All glass or other transparent material fitted to a motor vehicle shall be maintained in such condition that it does not obscure the vision of the driver while the vehicle is being driven on a road.
2. Flags Not Requiring Consent (with restrictions)
Most categories of flag may be flown without consent subject to certain restrictions. This refers to the size, the size of characters on it, the number of flags, and the location. Categories of flags that can now be flown according to certain restrictions include:
- House flags can display the name, emblem, device or trademark of the company (or person) occupying the building. It can also 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 (e.g. Eco-Schools, The Queen’s Awards for Enterprise, and Investors in People).
Note: Flag flying regulations in this category relate to the flagpole or flagstaff. Hence, there are some restrictions for its fixing point or the location within the grounds or garden of a building.
UK Flag Rules: Flagpoles Planning Permission
Vertical Flagpole Planning Permission
Flying a flag on a vertical flagpole from the roof of a building:
- Planning permissions allow one (1) flag attached to a vertical flagpole on the roof of a building.
- There are no specific restrictions on the size of the banner flown on a vertical flagpole in the United Kingdom.
- There are no restrictions on the size of any character or symbol displayed. An exception could be where it gets flown within an area of outstanding natural beauty. Areas of ‘special control’ include the Broads, a conservation area, or a national park. In this case, the characters may be no more than 0.75 metres in height (0.3 metres in height in an area of special control).
- Permissions allow one (1) flag flying on a vertical flagpole on the roof of a building and one (1) flag within the grounds or gardens of the building without consent (subject to standard restrictions). But, you need consent to have one on a projecting flagpole and another on a vertical rooftop flagpole.
Projecting Flagpole Planning Permission
Flying a flag on a flagpole projecting from any part of a building other than the roof (e.g. projecting from the side of the building).
- Planning permission allows one (1) flag on a projecting flagpole on a building. In this case, it may not exceed 2 square metres in size.
- There are no specific restrictions on the size of any displayed characters.
- You would need consent to erect a flagpole in a controlled area. The same rules apply to have one on a projecting flagpole and another on a vertical rooftop flagpole.
UK Flag Rules: Multiple Flags
You can now fly up to two flags (2) within the grounds of a building. The rules used to allow only one (1) before the changes. These new flag flying rules refer to ‘curtilage’. But, they are subject to these conditions:
- There are no restrictions on the size of the flag. But, any flagpole used may not exceed 4.6 metres above ground level. You would need consent for displaying them in a controlled area.
- Up to two flags can be flown without consent when erected in the grounds of a building. But only one flag can be flown within the gardens of a building if another flag is either being flown from the roof. The same applies if it is projecting from the building.
Flag Location Options Summary
- Vertical Flagpole on the Roof: Allows one (1) additional flagpole in the grounds of the building.
- Projecting Flagpole from the Building: Allows one (1) additional flagpole in the grounds of the building.
- In the Grounds of the Building: Allows one (1) additional flag (either a vertical flagpole on the roof of the building or a projecting flagpole attached to the building or flagpole in the grounds of the building).
Green and Blue Environmental Award Scheme Flags
Rule changes allow the emblem of the Blue Flag award scheme to be flown from a flagpole on part of a beach or marina. The same applies to the Green Flag Award scheme or Green Flag Community Award scheme allowing it to be flown on part of a park, in a garden, or other green spaces.
3. Flags Requiring Consent
To avoid breaking the law, any flag which is not identified above requires express consent from the local planning authority before it may be flown.
Note: Contact the local planning authority for guidance on the consent required for flying a flag in Great Britain.