Few charities will have to register under lobbying act, says Charity Commission's Caroline Cooke

The regulator's head of policy engagement and research tells its public meeting that this is the case despite all the 'heat and light'

Caroline Cooke

Only "a very small number of charities" will be required to register with the Electoral Commission in order to comply with requirements of the lobbying act, according to a Charity Commission official.

Caroline Cooke, head of policy engagement and research at the regulator, was addressing the commission’s public meeting in Manchester yesterday.

She said of the lobbying act: "There are some fundamentals of it that scared the sector, I think it is fair to say. There has been a lot of heat and light, but I think a very small number of charities will be caught by it."

Cooke said that a key mistake many charities made in their campaigning was to stray from their missions.

Under the lobbying act, non-party campaigners have to register with the Electoral Commission if their spending on certain campaigning activities exceeds certain thresholds. Those thresholds have been raised and the maximum spending limit has been lowered, but the range of activities has been broadened by the act.

Charities fear this restricts their ability to campaign on issues that could be regarded as party political in the run-up to elections, with some commentators suggesting there will be a "chilling effect" if charities exercise a large degree of caution in order to be sure they are not breaking the law.

The Electoral Commission is due to publish its full guidance on the law this month.

William Shawcross, chair of the Charity Commission, said last year that most of the voluntary sector was happy with the changes made to the act by the government.

Responding to a letter from Sir Stephen Bubb, head of the charity leaders body Acevo, the Prime Minister David Cameron said in February that the legislation would not affect the majority of charities and other campaigning organisations.

- This story was updated on 4 July 2014 to make it clear that Cooke was talking about the number of charities that will have to register with the Electoral Commission

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