A letter signed by 122 charity sector bodies, including the National Council for Voluntary Organisations and the Charity Finance Group, has called for reforms to the lobbying act amid concerns that the legislation limits charities’ participation in the democratic process.
The letter, which was organised by the international development network Bond and is addressed to Tracey Crouch, the Minister for Sport and Civil Society, calls for the implementation of the Conservative peer Lord Hodgson’s proposed revisions to the lobbying act to make the legislation less "confusing and burdensome".
The lobbying act sets spending limits and makes it a legal necessity for all organisations that spend more that £20,000 in England or £10,000 in Wales on regulated campaigning in the year prior to an election to register with the Electoral Commission.
Hodgson’s review of the lobbying act, which was commissioned by the government and published its recommendations last year, called for a number of reforms, including reducing the regulated campaign period to four months before an election and changes to the rules on joint campaigning.
But the government has yet to implement Hodgson’s recommendations. The letter says that Crouch should work with the Cabinet Office to ensure parliamentary time is set aside to discuss Hodgson’s proposals, and that the act needs to be made less "vague and confusing".
The letter says: "Charities and non-partisan campaign groups have spent significant time attempting to understand the legislation and how to comply. However, many of the rules are vague and confusing, especially for smaller organisations.
"While some organisations have sought legal advice to help them interpret the legislation, this can be expensive and is simply not an option for many. The rules on joint campaigning are also a concern for smaller charities and have made organisations more hesitant to collaborate."
The letter says that the law might be excluding some charities from public debate.
"While we recognise that regulation is necessary to ensure that no one individual or organisation can exert undue influence at an election, the lobbying act has had a disproportionate impact on civil society campaigning," the letter says.
"We are concerned that it caused many organisations not to engage in the run-up to the recent general election, and resulted in some important voices being lost from public debate."
The chief executives of the charity chief executives body Acevo and the infrastructure body Navca have signed the letter, as well as major charities and campaigning organisations including Action for Children, the Charities Aid Foundation, WWF, Save the Children, Leonard Cheshire Disability, Greenpeace and the RSPB.