Lobbying Act guidance updated by Electoral Commission

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Charities should be aware that the Electoral Commission has reviewed and clarified its guidance on the controversial Lobbying Act, which came into force in January this year. The amendments comprise 22 changes to the Electoral Commission's guidance and updated FAQs.

The Lobbying Act introduced provisions regulating campaigning activities in the run-up to a general election and require any organisation planning to spend more than £20,000 in England (or £10,000 in each of Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland) on 'regulated campaigning activities' during the 'regulated period' to register with the Electoral Commission as a non-party campaigner.  These provisions were of particular concern for charities, who were worried that their regular campaigning activities may fall within the Act. There were also concerns that a campaign may become regulated if an issue a charity had been campaigning on was subsequently adopted by a political party.

The updated guidance emphasises that campaigning will only fall within the Act if it can reasonably be regarded as intended to influence how people vote.  The FAQs go further and state that if a charity has "a long term campaign that is closely aligned to a political party’s position on an issue, it will not automatically become regulated after the start of the regulated period" and that "spending on your campaign will not become regulated simply because a party has publicly adopted a policy that you are already campaigning for….In each case, it will depend on how you react to the support of the political party and whether you change your campaign as a result of that support.  Spending on your campaign will become regulated if you publicise the political party’s support in your subsequent campaigning; or alter or increase your campaigning as a result of the political party’s support".

Although these amendments will be welcomed by charities, we would advise any organisation that is planning campaigning activities ahead of the general election to familiarise themselves with the guidance and ensure they are aware of their obligations under electoral law; if unsure, you should seek further advice.  We would also remind charity trustees that they should first and foremost follow their obligations under charity law and keep in mind their duty to act in the best interests of the charity at all times.

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