Draft guidance on campaigning now available

The Charity Commission has published new draft guidance on campaigning by charities that it hopes will be clearer than the current version.

The draft, available on the commission’s website, will be discussed by its board next Thursday with a view to a final revision being published next month.

The main change in the draft is a new definition of how much political campaigning by charities is acceptable. Current guidance in the document CC9 says political campaigning must not become a “dominant” activity and must “remain incidental or ancillary to the charity’s purposes”.

The draft makes a distinction between "campaigning activities which can further charitable purposes" and "political activities which can be undertaken by a charity only in the context of supporting charitable purposes".

A spokeswoman for the commission said: “An anti-smoking charity, for example, would have objects relating to health education and could engage solely in campaigning to raise awareness of its message because this would further its purpose.

“It could also engage in political activity if it wanted to support the passage of a bill that banned smoking, for example, as this would support its charitable objects. However, if an organisation was set up with the exclusive object of influencing this bill, it would not be granted charitable status.”

The draft reiterates that a charity cannot dedicate all its resources to political campaigning or have a political purpose. But it acknowledges that under the Charities Act 2006 “there are some purposes (such as the promotion of human rights) which are more likely than others to lead trustees to want to engage in campaigning and political activity”.

The paper to be considered by the board hints that in future it might be appropriate to produce more tailored guidance for charities with charitable purposes of this kind, or to further update CC9.

The draft also deals for the first time with campaigning intended to ensure that existing laws are upheld. This is now defined as campaigning, rather than political activity, allowing it to be carried out in furtherance of charitable purposes.

CC9 has been criticised for being too risk-averse. The draft seeks to address this. It says: “As with any decision they make, when considering campaigning and political activity charity trustees must weigh up the possible benefits against the costs and risks in deciding whether this campaign is likely to be an effective way of furthering or supporting the charity’s purposes.”

Brian Lamb, a member of the Advisory Group on Campaigning by Charities and of a focus group consulted by the commission, welcomed the draft guidance.

“Charities will be much clearer about their rights to campaign,” he said. “The commission has listened to the concerns of the sector and provided a ringing endorsement that charitable campaigning is not an added extra but a central part of how modern charities achieve their aims.

“Scrapping the distinction of dominant and ancillary for a much more practical distinction between general campaigning and political activities should help to reassure charities about their rights to campaign.”

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