Posted: 03 May 2017

Charities and the Lobbying Act: What you need to know

Disclaimer: The opinions in this blog do not constitute advice, and are not a substitute for consulting statutory guidance or seeking legal advice.

The announcement of a general election in a few weeks’ time came as a surprise to most of us and for many charities it raises questions about how we campaign during the election period.

As a charity, we must not support or oppose a political party or any candidates. We must stress our independence and make sure that any involvement we have with political parties is balanced.

The Lobbying Act, introduced in 2014, also means there are rules around what charities can and can’t do.

What the Lobbying Act means for our work

During the election period charities have to be particularly careful about their campaigning, as they can get into trouble if they appear to be supporting a particular party or influencing the way people vote.

The main point is that although we have to take care to adhere to the guidelines, this should not be a barrier to carrying on with our valuable work for children and young people.

We’ve considered questions such as:

  • What hashtags and language can’t we use? 
  • Why shouldn’t shops display posters of local candidates?
  • Can we oppose or congratulate any commitments on areas related to our work?
  • Can we wear blue, red or yellow in public for the next three months?

Well, maybe not the last one. But there are five main things anyone working in a charity needs to know.

Five main things anyone working in a charity needs to know

  1. Charities are in the spotlight. Charities can continue to undertake political campaigning if it supports our charitable purpose, but must not be seen to influence the general public in terms of how they vote. But nothing has changed here; we should not be attempting to influence voters under previous guidelines. 
  2. We could get in hot water even if we didn’t intentionally plan to influence voters. It can be as simple as being perceived as trying to influence voter choice. For example, there have been charities accused of being politically biased because they have used certain language or certain hashtags. 
  3. There are a few areas we have to be particularly aware of the implications:
    • In our policy, campaigns and media work
    • On our website and on social media
    • In our shops and our services where MPs and candidates might be visiting
  4. Guidance is available for those who need to think this through in more detail. Anyone who is responsible for tweeting, writing policy reports, designing campaign actions, writing media releases, should take a look at Charity Commission and Electoral Commission guidance. We have created our own checklist of issues, and the charity you work for has probably done the same.
  5. Keep calm and carry on campaigning. Our Board of Trustees, Chief Executive and senior leaders all passionately believe that the lobbying act must not prevent us from continuing our work. We should carry on being a brave and trusted organisation, speaking up on behalf of vulnerable children. We must continue, under charity guidance, to be politically impartial, but this does not mean we can’t do our work.

So we’ll carry on campaigning. And I’ll carry on wearing a combination of colours, including, but not limited to, red, blue, yellow, green, purple, orange...

By Peter Grigg - Policy team
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