Reminder from Charity Commission and new guidance on campaigning

16th October 2019

As expectations grow for a general election, the CEO of the Charity Commission, Helen Stephenson, has issued a reminder to charities of their responsibilities surrounding political campaigning.

The CEO notes that “the deeper the divisions in the country, the more important it is that charities are demonstrably driven not by their leaders own world views, but by the needs of the beneficiaries they serve.”

The Commission has published guidance on campaigning and political activity for charities, as well as supplementary guidance on campaigning and political activity during election periods which charities should be reminded of. The guidance includes, amongst other matters, that trustees must not allow the charity to be used as a vehicle for the expression of the personal or party political views of any individual trustee or staff member, and trustees must weigh up the possible benefits against the costs and risks in deciding whether the campaign is likely to be an effective way of furthering or supporting the charity’s purposes.

Charities are reminded to ensure they are aware of this guidance, which sets out the principles of charity law and the framework within which charities are expected to operate.

The Electoral Commission has also published guidance for charities regarding campaigning in the lead up to elections and referendums.

The guidance relates to the rules surrounding general campaigns for or against one or more candidates in a particular constituency, ward or other electoral area. For such campaigns, spending on activities such as election material, canvassing and market research, public rallies/events, press conferences or other media events, and transport in connection with the campaign, are all subject to regulations.

Such regulations apply to charities in the period before the election, which for a general election can be up to one year before. If the charity’s total expenditure on the activities outlined above surpasses £20,000 in England or £10,000 in Wales, Scotland or NI, the charity must register with the Electoral Commission.

The guidance provides that charities will need to look at both the public and purpose test to assess if their spending is regulated. However, the guidance acknowledges that as a result of the restrictions imposed by charity law, most charities are unlikely to carry out activities that meet the purpose test as many of these campaigns are already prohibited under charity law. Therefore, a charity who abides by charity law and guidance from the Charity Commission is unlikely to be affected by the electoral commission’s regulations.

A full copy of the guidance can be viewed here. 

If you need expert advice on anything regarding the Charity Commission, regulation or compliance, please speak to one of our Charity Law experts.

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