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Honours System

November 19, 2009

The honours system recognises people of outstanding merit, and those who have committed themselves to service to the nation. It’s been around for centuries, but it was a closed system for many years. Only since 1993 has everybody been free to nominate.

Who can be nominated?

Anyone can be nominated, but only exceptional people are honoured. If you want to see your candidate on the honours list, make sure your nomination has what it takes to make it all the way to Buckingham Palace. Achievement comes in many forms but honours committees are looking for someone who has made a difference in their field of work or community.

Honours can be awarded for all sorts of work – paid or unpaid – but your nominee must still be involved in the activity for which they are nominated.
Before you make your nomination, ask yourself the following questions. Has your nominee:

  • made a difference to their community or field of work?
  • brought distinction to British life and enhanced its reputation?
  • exemplified the best sustained and selfless voluntary service?
  • demonstrated innovation and entrepreneurship?
  • carried the respect of their peers?
  • changed things, with an emphasis on achievement?
  • improved the lot of those less able to help themselves?
  • displayed moral courage and vision in making and delivering tough choices?

Nomination Forms

To get started, you’ll need a copy of the nominations form and the guidance notes, these are linked below. Alternatively, you can write or telephone the Cabinet Office and ask for a paper version to be sent to you.
You must return the form to the address below by post or fax; it cannot be sent by email because the Cabinet Office requires a signed copy. Please note: If you need a copy of the guidance notes in Braille, please use the contact information below to request it.
Cabinet Office
Honours and Appointments Secretariat
Ground Floor
Admiralty Arch
London SW1A 2WH
Fax: +44 (0)20 7276 2766
Telephone: +44 (0)20 7276 2777
Email: ceremonial@cabinet-office.x.gsi.gov.uk

Writing a Letter of Support

If you are writing a letter of support, you may find the booklet linked below useful.

What happens to a nomination?

Nominations are collated and then segregated according to the nominee’s area of expertise. Expert committees can then compare like with like – for instance, teacher with teacher – and the best candidates are put forward to the Prime Minister, who then presents the list to The Queen.

Which order?

The committee considers the appropriate order and level. There is no need to specify this in any nomination. Note that:

  • senior Civil Servants and military officers may be considered for the Order of the Bath
  • diplomats and others serving the UK abroad may be considered for the Order of St Michael and St George
  • anyone may be considered for awards in the Order of the British Empire
  • anyone may be considered for the award of Companion of Honour

Which level?

Once the Order has been identified the criteria below are used by committees for deciding the level of award. The assessment committees also use precedent to aid their consideration.

Companion of Honour

A pre-eminent and sustained contribution in the arts, science, medicine, or government.

Knight/Dame

Awarded for a pre-eminent contribution in any field of activity, through:

  • achievement or service to the community usually, but not exclusively, at national level
  • in a capacity which will be recognised by peer groups as inspirational and significant nationally and
  • which demonstrates sustained commitment

CBE

Awarded for:

  • a prominent national role of a lesser degree or
  • a conspicuous leading role in regional affairs, through achievement or service to the community or
  • making a highly distinguished, innovative contribution in his or her area of activity

OBE

Awarded for:

  • a distinguished regional or country-wide role in any field
  • through achievement or service to the community
  • including notable practitioners known nationally

MBE

Awarded for:

  • achievement or service in and to the community of a responsible kind which is outstanding in its field or
  • local ‘hands-on’ service which stands out as an example to others

In all cases awards illuminate areas of dedicated service which merit public recognition.
In terms of service the difference is determined by the extent of the person’s influence. In terms of achievement the difference is determined by the significance of the person’s impact in their chosen profession.

Checking progress

As you can imagine, verifying a large number of nominations takes time. That’s why the nominee should not expect to hear anything for 18 months or so. You can contact the Honours and Appointments Secretariat if you would like to check on progress.

The decision

If selected, candidates are sent a letter asking them whether they would be willing to accept an Honour. Almost everyone does and their names will appear in The London Gazette at the New Year or on The Queen’s official birthday in June.