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April 22nd, 2017ArticlesGeoffrey Hand 0 Comments

In the run-up to this general election, it matters what your charity says, and how much it spends on saying it.

The Electoral Commission chose the day after Theresa May called our snap 2017 general election to announce fines on Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace for breaking campaigning rules during the 2015 General Election.

They were fined for exceeding the spending limits on their joint ‘Coastal Champions’ boat tour and on an anti-fracking poster campaign.

They are the first charities to have been fined under the Lobbying Act 2014.

How to keep your charity safe?

Beware the Lobbying Act 2014!

If your charity plans to spend more than £20,000 in England (or more than £10,000 in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland) on electoral  campaigning, your charity must register with the Electoral Commission.

While keeping your voice

There is no need for your charity to go into purdah at election time – quite the contrary.

Your charity is free to campaign and to engage in political activities to further your charity’s purposes. Indeed, campaigning and political activity are perfectly legitimate and valuable activities for your charity to undertake.

You may well consider the period of a general election to be the best possible time to focus your charity’s energies on political activity, campaigning for your charity’s cause and for a better world.

Without being PARTY political

But there are rules.  Your charity MUST NOT engage in party politics.

The golden rule is that your charity must not be party political. You can campaign for more housing for the homeless, for sanctuary for refugees, for famine relief in Africa – for all and any charitable cause. This is known as “non-party campaigning”.

Your charity must not give the slightest hint of supporting or favouring any particular political party or any particular candidate for election. It is a fundamental principle of charity law that charities must maintain their independence and must never engage in party political activity.

It’s so easy to get it wrong…

Here are examples taken from the 2015 general election of some activities that may get your charity into trouble:

• allowing party political posters or promotional material to be displayed at your charity’s premises

• a trustee of your charity publicly giving a reference for a candidate or appearing to endorse or support a candidate

• your charity placing or re-publishing political content in social media

• your charity becoming associated with a candidate who is a member of your charity

• your charity letting its premises for a party-political function

• your charity commenting on which party has policies that are the most supportive of your
charity’s work

Make sure your charity gets it right

You can find guidance from the Charity Commission on campaigning and political activities in general here, and guidance for your charity specific to election times here.

And if you’d like a second opinion or further guidance on these or any other governance issues at your charity, don’t hesitate to get in touch.

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Geoffrey Hand

Geoffrey Hand is a charity governance consultant, offering governance consultancy and training. He also provides legal services management, helping charities get better value for money from their lawyers. Geoffrey has extensive experience in the charity and legal worlds, and his mission is to help charities deliver good governance.

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