Electoral Commission issues new guidance on lobbying act

Sector leaders have welcomed the move, given the controversy surrounding what charities can say in the year before an election

Charity sector leaders have welcomed new guidance published from the Electoral Commission that clarifies how the lobbying act works.

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.

The act has proved controversial in the charity sector and many charities have talked about fearing they were unable to speak out properly about issues so as not to contravene the legislation.

The new guidance from the Electoral Commission, published on Monday, clarifies how it affects charities’ campaigning activities in the run-up to a snap general election, given the concerns about how the lobbying act worked before the 2017 general election.

Another election is considered likely before the end of this year, with the government having recently lost two votes in the House of Commons intended to bring one.

Louise Edwards, director of regulation at the Electoral Commission, said: "We understand the challenges faced by organisations that don’t regularly engage in political campaigning, and it’s an important part of our role to support them in understanding how they can comply with the law.

"Campaigning is a vital part of the democratic process, and we hope this guidance will enable groups to campaign with confidence all year round."

The guidance was produced in consultation with the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, the charity leaders body Acevo and the international development umbrella body Bond.

Karl Wilding, chief executive of the NCVO, said: "This new guidance provides much greater clarity for charities and should make it clearer that charities can campaign with confidence.

"Although there are still issues that we believe require changes to the legislation itself, we’re very pleased that the Electoral Commission has taken our feedback on board and done what it can within current electoral law to address many of the concerns charities have expressed about their ability to campaign."

Vicky Browning, chief executive of Acevo, said: "Non-party campaigning, like that undertaken by charities, is an indicator of a healthy democracy, and I am pleased that this guidance clearly emphasises this.

"The lobbying act is a complex piece of legislation that requires reform, but this guidance is an essential step forward in helping civil society leaders to navigate the rules and understand how they can – and should – represent their cause and community in the run up to an election."

Mike Wright, director of communications and member services at Bond, said: "We hope that the further clarity and tone of the guidance will go some way to reassure civil society that it can campaign with more confidence during elections.

"While the guidance is a helpful step forward in the short-term, Bond will continue to call for the undemocratic lobbying act to be reformed."

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