The Charity Commission will assess its CC9 guidance on charity campaigning after next May’s general election, according to Paula Sussex, chief executive of the regulator, but this will not go as far as a full, formal review.
Speculation has been circulating in recent weeks that the commission would review its guidance Speaking Out: guidance on campaigning and political activity by charities (CC9).
Addressing the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Civil Society and Volunteering in Westminster yesterday, Sussex, said: "We will, just after the election, review the current guidance."
In response to a question from one of the APPG attendees, Sussex said this exercise could look at instances in which charities had decided against certain campaigning activities as a result of fearing they would be caught out and penalised under the lobbying act.
She said that the act’s new rules, which came into force for the first time in September, created new challenges for charities and the commission. "We will see in the run-up to the election a lot of what I would call test cases," she said.
But the commission today issued a clarification saying that Sussex had not committed to a formal review of CC9. "We would like to reassure charities that our guidance on campaigning stands. Charities can and should feel confident in following CC9 when they plan their campaigning and political activity ahead of the general election," the comission's clarification says.
"Findings from our election case work, along with the impact of the lobbying act, will have to be reviewed after the election. Such a review, and the consideration of other issues relating to the current guidance, may or may not recommend changes to the guidance. If we do consider revisions should be made to CC9, we will say so publicly and consult widely," it says.
The clarification also said that the commission had created a rapid response case handling system, committed to responding quickly to and making a public statement about any complaints made about charities’ campaigns breaking the rules.
Sir Stuart Etherington, chief executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, said: "NCVO’s members regularly tell us of their concerns that their right to campaign is under threat. We think CC9 is fit for purpose and that it has stood the test of time. NCVO and its members look forward to working under this guidance in the future."
Sir Stephen Bubb, chief executive of charity leaders group Acevo, said: "We will strongly resist any attempt to water down CC9 and weaken charities’ ability to speak out in a free society."
The APPG also discussed the topic of whether the Charity Commission might supplement its budget with some fees or levies on the charities it regulates. "In our discussions with the treasury, they have encouraged us to look at different forms of funding," said Sussex.
The commission and the NCVO will have a round-table discussion on the proposal this month. Sarah Atkinson, director of policy and communications at the commission, said at the APPG meeting: "I think for a long time all of us have stepped away from the debate because it is too difficult."
Sussex also told the meeting that the commission should soon be ready to finally launch its revamped register of charities.
The regulator had initially said that a new version of the register might have been ready shortly after Easter this year, and even though it has now moved to a new website, there is still no date for the new register’s launch. "If possible, I’d like to give you a firmer date in a couple of weeks’ time," Sussex said.
See page 28 of the December edition of Third Sector, out this week, for a profile of Paula Sussex