With the General election less than a year away, the Charity Commission, the regulator of charities in England and Wales, is urging charities to follow new guidance on campaigning for charities, produced by the Electoral Commission, and to follow its own rules on political campaigning.
Charities and Campaigning, published by the Electoral Commission, explains the rules of charity law and electoral law so that charities can ensure they comply with all the relevant legislation when campaigning in the run up to an election. The regulator is urging charities to read and follow this guidance, as well as the Commission’s own guidance Speaking out - Campaigning and political activity by charities (CC9).
Why the Electoral Commission guidance has been produced
The guidance follows the introduction of the Transparency of Lobbying, Non Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act 2014 (‘the Lobbying Act’). The Lobbying Act changed the rules for non-party campaigners in the run up to elections. This included the requirement for organisations to register with the Electoral Commission if they spend more than a set threshold on certain activities during the regulated electoral period. The Charity Commission has supported the development of the new guidance, alongside the charity regulators in Northern Ireland and Scotland.
Paula Sussex, chief executive of the Charity Commission, said:
I welcome the Electoral Commission’s new guidance, which the Commission has contributed to and supports. All charities thinking about engaging in campaigning activity in the run up to the next election need to follow it, as well as the Commission’s own guidance on campaigning and political activity. This is serious matter for charities. I urge all charities that may be campaigning or involved in political activity in the months ahead to make sure they understand what is required of them.
What the Charity Commission guidance says
The guidance makes clear that charity law recognises campaigning as a legitimate activity for charities, so long as it supports the delivery of the charity’s purposes and is justifiable, including in terms of impact and cost. This can include campaigning to secure or oppose a change in the law or Government policy or decisions. But charities must retain independence and political neutrality, must never engage in any form of party political activity, and must take reasonable care to avoid adverse perceptions of their independence and political neutrality.
The first step for charities considering campaigning is to ensure they are in compliance with charity law. The next step is to identify whether the charity needs to register as a non-party campaigner during the regulated period before an election.
This requires charities to consider whether their planned campaigning activity is regulated under the Lobbying Act as well as the cost and timing of their planned activity. If charities plan to spend more than £20,000 in England or £10,000 in Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland on such regulated activity, they must register with the Electoral Commission as a non-party campaigner.
The regulated period for the upcoming general election begins on 19 September 2014.
Notes to Editors
- The Charity Commission is the independent regulator of charities in England and Wales.
- Our mission is to be the independent registrar and regulator of charities in England and Wales, acting in the public’s interest, to ensure that:
- charities know what they have to do
- the public know what charities do
- charities are held to account