Additions to lobbying act guidance welcomed by charity experts

The Electoral Commission has made 22 changes to its guidance on the controversial act, which came into force in January this year


- This article was corrected on 14 November 2014; please see final paragraph

Additions to the Electoral Commission's guidance on complying with the lobbying act have been welcomed by charity campaigning experts.

The lobbying act, which was passed in January, widened the list of regulated campaigning activities for charities and other campaigners.

The Electoral Commission originally published guidance on the act for non-party campaigners in July. The guidance was criticised as unclear and unhelpful, and the commission came under pressure to modify it.

Having made initial minor changes in August, the commission earlier this week released a document detailing 22 changes to the guidance, which were made late last month.

Also last month, the commission updated its list of frequently asked questions for non-party campaigners, which accompanies the actual guidance.

The FAQs now include guidance on social media, how a campaign raising awareness of an issue is treated by the commission, and what happens if a political party decides to support, oppose or debate a view that has been promoted by a charity on a particular issue.

In particular, it clarifies whether and in what way a charity may alter or increase its campaigning after a political party makes such a decision, without that campaign then being counted as a regulated activity.

"These were probably two of the thorniest issues for charities," says Elizabeth Chamberlain, policy manager at the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, in a blog post.

She describes the new FAQs as helpful and says: "Our main objective was not only to provide clarity but also to reassure charities that, as long as they are complying with charity law and carefully following the Charity Commission’s CC9 guidance, it is unlikely they will need to register."

Rosamund McCarthy, a partner at the law firm Bates Wells Braithwaite, said: "I very much welcome the clarification of what altering and increasing means. Generally speaking, you will have to be scaling up or going into new types of campaigning to be caught by the test."

Of the 22 changes to the guidance, 12 involve changing the word "should" to "must" regarding the obligations for non-party campaigners to keep records of spending and activity. It includes other amendments and clarifications to the text.

A spokesman for the Electoral Commission said it was grateful for the feedback on its guidance and FAQs from third sector bodies, in particular the NCVO, and other groups.

"We’re keen to ensure that we support non-party campaigners by providing clarification to our guidance where that’s helpful," he said. "Charities in particular wanted more clarity on the rules regarding spending on social media and what happens if a political party supports an organisation’s stance on a particular issue."

- The story originally said that the Electoral Commission amended its list of frequently asked questions without public announcement; in fact the information was available on its website and sent out in an email update.

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