Draft guidance released by the Charity Commission is inconsistent with the regulator’s position on campaigning and could make charities more cautious in this area, the National Council for Voluntary Organisations has warned.
The commission opened a consultation in February about new guidance for charities that are connected with non-charitable organisations. The consultation is due to end tomorrow afternoon.
In its response, the NCVO said it had concerns about the wording in parts of the draft guidance, specifically about charities’ approaches to campaigning.
The NCVO response said that the new wording, which says "it may be legitimate for the charity itself to undertake political activity", is not consistent with other, "much more supportive" Charity Commission guidance on the issue.
The Charity Commission’s CC9 guidance, which covers campaigning and political activity for charities, says campaigning, advocacy and political activity "are all legitimate and valuable activities for charities to undertake" and that charities are "uniquely placed to campaign and advocate on behalf of their beneficiaries".
The NCVO response to the consultation said the language in the new guidance was therefore "less enabling" and that it was important to "maintain consistency" across all the commission’s published guidance.
"In addition, we would be concerned by any change in language which made charities any more cautious about legitimate campaigning activity – especially as the commission itself noted its experience that charities were often overcautious in this regard," the NCVO response said.
"Any language about political activity by charities should fully reflect the language used in CC9."
Charities’ campaigning activities have been an issue of debate in the past few years, in particular how charities interpret the lobbying act and their ability to speak out on issues ahead of last year’s general election and the EU referendum in 2016.
The NCVO response said that the definition of a connected organisation in the draft guidance was "potentially very broad" and there were discrepancies between a list of indicators of a connected relationship in the consultation and the guidance’s definition of a connected relationship as being "deliberate".
A spokeswoman for the regulator said: "We welcome and will be considering consultation responses to inform the final guidance. We aim to publish an analysis of the responses we receive within three months."