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Charities and Political Campaigning: Do's and Don'ts

View profile for Tim Field
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Charities and Political Campaigning: Dos and Donts

With the news that a General Election will be held on 4 July 2024, many charities will be getting ready to campaign and get involved in political activities. Campaigning during this period offers a unique opportunity to influence public policy and raise awareness, but it also comes with specific responsibilities and legal requirements that charities should adhere to.

UK Law

In the UK, charities operate under a stringent legal framework that dictates their involvement in political activities. The Charity Commission for England and Wales (Charity Commission) provides clear guidelines on this matter. According to the Charity Commission, while charities can engage in political activity as a means to further their charitable purposes, they must not support or oppose any political party or candidate. The rules are designed to ensure that charities remain politically neutral and focused on their charitable objectives.

Campaigning

Whilst direct political campaigning is prohibited, charities can still engage in advocacy efforts that align with their objects or purposes. Advocacy involves raising awareness about issues, influencing public policy, and educating voters. Advocacy is not only permissible but is often encouraged as it contributes to informed public debate.

The Charity Commission specifies that charities can engage in public debate and highlight the issues they are concerned with, provided it is clear that their involvement is to further their charitable purposes. Charities can also respond to consultations and provide evidence to parliamentary committees, ensuring their activities are transparent and well-documented.

However, the heightened scrutiny during election periods means charities’ actions are more likely to be closely examined by regulatory bodies and the public. Timing and context are, therefore, crucial considerations for charities during this period of campaigning.

Practical guidance for charities during election periods

To navigate these complex challenges, charities should follow best practices outlined by the Charity Commission in recent guidance:

  1. Maintain neutrality: ensure all communication and activities do not favour, or appear to favour, any political party or candidate.
  2. Focus on charitable purposes: all political activity must achieve the charity’s objects and must be in the public interest.
  3. Clear documentation: keep detailed records of charity decisions and actions related to political activity to demonstrate compliance with legal requirements. Consider having robust policies and procedures in place to manage potential risks and consequences of campaigning during election periods.
  4. Training: ensure all staff and volunteers understand the importance of maintaining political neutrality.

Charities can effectively contribute to public discourse by adhering to legal guidelines without compromising their integrity or legal standing. This balance is delicate, but with careful planning and awareness, charities can navigate the complexities of political campaigning during the election period.

How Birkett Long can help

Our business team has the necessary expertise to take the steps charities need to ensure they meet the legal framework. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact Tim Field  on 0330 818 3166 or via tim.field@birkettlong.co.uk .

The contents of this blog are intended for general information purposes only and shall not be deemed to be, or constitute legal advice. We cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this blog.