Campaigning in the pre-election period: what charities need to know

19th April 2024

picture of electoral ballot

Ahead of the upcoming election period, charities and charity trustees have been urged by Orlando Fraser, Chair of the Charity Commission, to read and familiarise themselves with the new Non-Party Campaigner Code, which came into effect from 1 December 2023 (“the Code”). The Code is statutory guidance issued under section 110B of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 and is different from other types of guidance that the Charity Commission publishes because it has been approved by parliament, indicating its importance.

Together, the Charity Commission and Electoral Commission chairs, Orlando Fraser and John Pullinger respectively, have also published a blog in order to provide advice to charities that engage in public debate and campaigning, in view of the fact that the next UK general election is required to be held on or before 28 January 2025.

The blog seeks to reassure charity leaders and trustees that the law is clear about the right of charities to campaign. It refers to the Charity Commission’s guidance “campaigning and political activity guidance for charities (CC9)”.

This guidance is designed to advise charities wishing to engage in campaigning and political activity on the legal and regulatory framework, and again is guidance with which charities and charity trustees should be familiar. There is also a concise ‘five minute guide’ for those who need a quick refresh. As many charities will already be aware, when it comes to campaigning, charities can take part in political activity – provided it supports their purpose and is in their best interests.

However, charities must remain independent, must not give their support to a particular political party and political activity must not become the reason for a charity’s existence. The Code explains that charities are required to register as non-party campaigners if they spend more than £10,000 – previously this was over £20,000 in England – on regulated campaign activities in the 12 months leading up to the next general election, known as the ‘regulated period’.

Regulated activities and digital imprints

A ‘regulated activity’, in this context, will include any activity that can reasonably be regarded as intended to influence people’s voting choice. Charities may also be required to provide financial returns after the election. If a charity thinks they may have to register, the Electoral Commission advises them to do so early.

The new rules also require an imprint on all digital material that falls within the definition of regulated campaign activities, in order to tell voters who is responsible for publishing and promoting campaign material. This means that many types of digital material, such as social media adverts and posts, will require an imprint. The Electoral Commission has provided statutory guidance on digital imprints and has encouraged charities to send any queries about the new campaigning rules to them.

In a joint statement, Orlando Fraser and John Pullinger said: “We understand that these changes can appear daunting. That’s why we want to make sure you feel equipped to enter the next election period, undertaking any campaigning to advance your charity’s purposes, with confidence.

“We want to stress that electoral law exists not to limit campaigning, but to ensure that there is transparency around key campaigning activity.

Finally, everyone who engages in policy discussions around elections plays a part in supporting respectful debate and public confidence, but charities hold a unique position in law, and can and should model a better kind of discourse while championing their important work. If you do choose to engage, we expect you to do so in a manner that is respectful and tolerant and in a tone that reflects your standing as a registered charity.”

Related Articles

View All