Arthritis Research UK and Friends of the Earth among latest to register as non-party campaigners

Thirteen charities are now among the 66 organisations that have so far registered with the Electoral Commission

Electoral Commission
Electoral Commission

Arthritis Research UK, Friends of the Earth and the National Union of Students are among the latest charities, not-for-profit organisations and campaigning bodies to register as non-party campaigners with the Electoral Commission under the provisions of the lobbying act.

The act, given royal assent in January 2014, says that charities, campaign groups and other organisations must register with the Electoral Commission if their spending on particular "regulated activities" in a pre-election period exceeds £20,000 in England, £10,000 in the rest of the UK or £9,750 in any one parliamentary constituency.

The new law created a list of activities that is significantly broader than under previous law and lowered the overall spending permissible by registered organisations on those activities.

It has been criticised by some in the charity sector as an attempt to silence dissent and free speech, and many are concerned about the extra costs and bureaucracy imposed on charities.

Of 66 organisations so far registered with the Electoral Commission as non-party campaigners, 13 are charities.

Arthritis Research registered on 16 April and the NUS on 22 April; FoE’s registration is due to be confirmed this week. Two smaller organisations, both human rights-focused, have also registered in recent weeks: the British Institute of Human Rights and the grant-maker Global Dialogue.

Non-charitable organisations that have registered include trade unions, private businesses, private individuals and campaigning organisations such as Amnesty International UK and 38 Degrees.

Toni Pearce, president of the NUS, said the charity was concerned that the act had had a "chilling effect" on the sector’s campaigning role. The NUS wanted it scrapped and "replaced with something that is more accessible, coherent and holistic", she said.

The charity was running a campaign called Liar Liar, she said, which was trying to hold to account MPs who broke their pledges to oppose any rise in tuition fees.

"We are proud to register as a non-party campaigner and proud to be leading a campaign that pulls no punches," said Pearce. "But we need to work to create legislation that makes it easier and more accessible for other, particularly smaller, organisations to feel able to do the same."

Liz Hutchins, a senior campaigner at FoE, said: "I think we haven't toned down any of our campaigns as a result of the lobbying act, but the impact it has had internally has been huge." She said the charity’s senior staff had initially been given permission to spend money on regulated activities up to the thresholds, and the trustees had recently decided to register when spending was approaching the thresholds.

A spokeswoman for Arthritis Research UK said: "We’ve signed up as a non-party campaigner after taking advice from the Electoral Commission that our campaigning for people with arthritis during the general election campaign would fall within the act."

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