New Charity Commission guidance 'more restrictive than before on campaigning'

Lawyer Rosamund McCarthy of Bates Wells Braithwaite says the wording of new guidance on charitable purposes does not reflect the description in previous guidance

Rosamund McCarthy
Rosamund McCarthy

New Charity Commission guidance on charitable purposes contains more restrictive rules about when charities are able to campaign, according to Rosamund McCarthy, a partner at the law firm Bates Wells Braithwaite.

The guidance on charitable purposes, CC4: What Makes a Charity, was published this week, alongside the commission’s new guidance on public benefit.

McCarthy told Third Sector she was concerned that Annex B, which describes when an organisation is being political, contains much tighter rules than CC9, the commission’s existing guidance on campaigning.

She said the annex "does not reflect the legal position on political purposes" that is outlined in CC9: Speaking Out: Guidance on Campaigning and Political Activity by Charities

The new guidance says that the Charity Commission will look at whether a charity is political where any political campaigning that an organisation carries out is "integral to the organisation’s work", or "at least part of the reason for the organisation’s existence", or "the sole, or continuing, activity of the organisation".

But CC9 says that an organisation can engage in political activity so long as it is "part of a wider range of activities aimed at furthering the organisation’s charitable purposes". It also allows campaigning to apply "most, or all, of its resources on political activity for a period" so long as it does not become "the reason for the charity’s existence".

McCarthy said that the wording in CC9 gave charities much more freedom to campaign.

"I worry that the Charity Commission has amended CC9 without the sector noticing," McCarthy said. "Certainly, the tone is much more restrictive."

However, a Charity Commission spokeswoman said there was no contradiction between the two pieces of guidance.

She said the new guidance explained what makes a purpose charitable in law, whereas CC9 explained what charities could do in terms of their activities.

"Charities cannot have a political purpose, but they can take part in political activities that further or support their charitable purposes," she said. "For this reason it is not a contradiction to say that charities cannot exist even in part for a political purpose while also saying that a charity can apply most or all of its resources to political activity."

The charity sector is seeking changes to a proposed new law on lobbying, which the National Council for Voluntary Organisations has warned could restrict the ability of charities to campaign.

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