Northern Ireland regulator publishes EU referendum campaigning guidance

The document from the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland reminds charities they must remain independent of political parties and politicians and the trustees must act with due care

NI regulator adopts similar tone to Scottish counterpart
NI regulator adopts similar tone to Scottish counterpart

The Charity Commission for Northern Ireland has released advice for charities on campaigning in the forthcoming EU referendum.

Similar guidance has been produced by the regulators for Scotland, England and Wales.

The CCNI guidance adopts a similar tone to that of the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator, saying charities can take part in political activity or campaigning in the run-up to the referendum if they remain independent of any political party or politician and the trustees act with due care. Any activity must support a charity’s charitable purposes, not be prohibited in its governing document and be in the charity’s best interests, the guidance says.

The CCNI advice says all charities must at a minimum consider what impact either result would have on their beneficiaries and whether they should publically support or campaign for a particular outcome.

"It is important that charity trustees in Northern Ireland, as part of their strategic planning and good governance, consider what the referendum could mean for their charity," the guidance says.

"The outcome may be that you decide that it is unlikely that there will be an impact.

"However, it is still important to raise the issue, discuss it with trustees and note the outcome of that discussion."

The guidance also highlights the need for charities to avoid being seen as aligned to any political party before the Northern Ireland Assembly elections on 5 May.

"Each charity will have its own particular circumstances and charity trustees should take these into consideration, having reviewed the guidance, when determining what is appropriate for their charity in the run-up to the referendum," the guidance says.

"If you are unsure about what this guidance means for your charity then you may need to seek professional advice or support from an umbrella body."

It warns that if charities decide not to take a position, any trustee or senior staff member wishing to campaign independently must make it clear they are not doing so on behalf of the charity – something it warned would be difficult to achieve in practice.

The Charity Commission for England and Wales was forced to re-issue its EU campaigning guidance last week after sector bodies and charity lawyers said its original guidance was "misinterpreting the law" and set an inappropriate tone.

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