Charities and campaigning ahead of the general election

Published by Coral Curtis on 15 April 2024

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It is now expected that the Government will call a general election in the second half of 2024.

Any changes to legislation that are enacted by the next elected government will impact charities either directly, by way of funding or tax exemptions, or indirectly, through the impact on their beneficiaries and donors. So as the major parties begin outlining more details of their policies, charities are keen to add their input to the discussions taking place across the country on the priorities to be tackled.

However, it is important that charities are mindful of Charity Commission guidance, Charity Law, Electoral Law and the recently published Non-Party Campaigner Code of Practice. The basic rule is that charities must never support political parties and must be seen to be independent from party politics. They cannot make donations or give other support or resources either directly or through a subsidiary. Neither can they endorse a candidate or campaign for a political party.

Charities can however contribute to the debate. It may be that campaigning or giving support for change or commitment to a law or a specific policy is an important strategy to support the charity’s purposes and speaking out can give a louder voice representing the needs of your beneficiaries. This political activity is entirely legitimate when undertaken in the context of supporting the delivery of your charitable purpose unless your governing document prohibits it.

The Charity Commission issued guidance on Charities and social media which includes protection of the right by charities to engage in discussions on emotive topics and to engage in campaigning and political activity. This includes important considerations to ensure that charities and their employees comply with legislation. A charity’s reputation could be damaged if their independence and integrity is deemed to be compromised.

In December 2023, the Non-Party Campaigner Code of Practice came into effect.

In the 12 months leading up to the next election, certain campaign activities by non-party campaigners are regulated. These activities include:

  • electoral campaigning through press conferences / media events;
  • public rallies / events and transport to / from such events;
  • production of campaign materials made available to the public; and
  • any canvassing / market research which seeks views from members of the public.

It is only considered to be regulated campaigning if it can be reasonably regarded as intended to promote or procure the electoral success of:

  • one or more political parties;
  • political parties or candidates who support or do not support particular policies; or
  • another particular category of candidates.

If your charity spends more that £10,000 in this period on these regulated campaign activities in the UK, you are required to register with the Electoral Commission as a non-party campaigner. Additionally, any digital material which meets the definition of regulated campaign activities is required to carry a digital imprint telling voters who is responsible for publishing and promoting campaign material. Further details are available in the Non-party campaigner Code of Practice.

The next few months may be key in getting your charity’s voice heard and helping to shape the future spend and laws of the country. Remember that any campaigning and political activity must be focussed on your charitable purpose and ensure you are aware of the rules in place before engaging in any potentially regulated activities.

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