Misunderstanding of the lobbying act doing more harm than the legislation itself, says Etherington

The NCVO chief executive says charities that believe the act is a major impediment to campaigning 'are almost always mistaken'

Sir Stuart Etherington
Sir Stuart Etherington

Fear and misunderstanding of the lobbying act is doing more harm to charity campaigning than the legislation itself, the chief executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations has said.

In an email to the umbrella body’s more than 12,000 member organisations yesterday, Sir Stuart Etherington said he was concerned that confusion about the lobbying act was spreading and urged charities not to fall silent in the run-up to the election because of misplaced fears.

"There is no doubt that the lobbying act is flawed and there is scope for substantial improvement," he said.

"However, I am increasingly hearing of charities that consider the act is a major impediment to their campaigning. I fear that they are almost always mistaken and are unduly stifling their voices."

He said that in order to fall within the remit of the act, charities would need to spend at least £20,000 in England on activity that could be reasonably regarded as intended to influence how people vote, which was "something most charities are unlikely to do", he said.

The spending limit is £10,000 in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.  

"We are approaching a situation where fear and misunderstanding are doing far greater harm to charity campaigning than the legislation itself," he said.

"Charities must comply with the rules, both in the area of charity law and that of electoral law. They must be prudent about maintaining their independence from party politics.

"But they also have a right and a duty to speak up on behalf of their beneficiaries. The lobbying act does not stop charities from doing this."

Earlier this week, Sir Stephen Bubb, director of the think tank Charity Futures, criticised charities for allowing themselves to be silenced by the lobbying act and called on sector leaders to "get a backbone".

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