Campaigning under electoral law: FAQs

We’ve assembled frequently asked questions to help you confidently campaign within the electoral law.

Campaigning is a normal and legitimate part of what Bond members do, and it is vital that organisations continue to speak out during the electoral period. You just need to ensure that you follow the rules for campaigning during a general election.

Campaigning ahead of a general election is regulated by charity law (if you are a charity) and electoral law.

Charity law, regulated by the Charity Commission, applies at all times (not just during a general election). Rules on charities’ campaigning are set out in the Charity Commission’s campaigning and political activity guidance (also referred to as CC9). Under CC9 charities are allowed to campaign in support of their charitable purpose. This includes undertaking political activity (such as campaigning on legislation, policies or political decisions). However, a charity’s campaigning can never be party political.

The Charity Commission also releases Charities, Elections and Referendums Guidance – which only comes into force between the announcement of an election and election day – and is updated for each election.

Electoral law is set out in the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act (PPERA) 2000, which was amended by the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act 2014, (more commonly known as ‘the Lobbying Act’) and the Elections Act 2022.

Electoral law is regulated by the Electoral Commission and provides a set of rules to govern people and organisations that publicly campaign on issues in the run up to elections, but are not standing as a political party or candidate. These people or organisations are referred to as “non-party campaigners”.
Non-party campaigners may need to notify and register with the Electoral Commission if they spend over a £10,000 on regulated campaign activity.

A non-party campaigner may be a campaigning organisation, a charity, a faith group, a union, company or an individual.

Rules governing charities’ campaigning (CC9) applies at all times – whether an election has been called or not.

Electoral law applies during the ‘regulated period’. The regulated period begins 365 days prior to an election. The latest date for the next general election is January 2025; which means we are likely to already be in a regulated period.

When a snap general election is called the rules will apply retrospectively.

As non-party campaigners cannot have known that an election was to take place, it is unlikely that campaigning done in this period would be regulated. However, spending in local or mayoral elections in the year proceeding could still be regulated.

It is good practice to keep a record of spending for all campaign activity in case an unscheduled election is called.

You need to notify and register with the Electoral Commission as a non-party campaigner when you spend certain amounts of money on ‘regulated campaign activity’, that meets the ‘purpose test’ and is available to the general public.

Activities that may be regulated include:

  • Production or publication of materials, that are made available to the public or a section of the public
  • Canvassing, or market research seeking views or information from, members of the public
  • Press conference or media events organised by you or on your behalf
  • Transport used to publicise your campaign
  • Public rallies or public events

These campaign activities are only regulated if they pass the “purpose test” and are available to the general public.

The purpose test is essentially whether an activity can be reasonably regarded as intending to influence voters in a certain way. To assess whether a campaign meets the purpose test, the Electoral Commission guidance identifies four factors that campaigners should consider when deciding whether an activity passes the purpose test. The four factors are:

  • Call to action
  • Tone
  • Context and timing
  • How a reasonable person would see the activity

An activity will almost always meet the purpose test and be deemed regulated if it promotes the electoral success of:

  • one or more political parties
  • political parties or candidates who support or do not support particular policies or
  • another particular category of candidates

Campaign activity must also communicate with the general public to meet the requirement for regulation. Campaign materials that are only made available to a closed group of members or people who have chosen to receive the information will not be regulated. Similarly, if access to an event is limited so that the general public cannot participate or view the event then it will not be regulated.

But if you hold a rally or event that is open to or can be viewed by the general public, or if you produce campaign materials that are available to the general public, then it would be considered regulated campaign activity.

All costs that relate to the regulated campaign activity, including staff costs, count towards your spending limit. You must also include any overheads or administrative costs that relate to this activity. Staff costs related to budgeting or planning a regulated campaign activity also count.

Social media communications that meet the purpose test would count as regulated campaign activity. In many cases, the cost of posting an individual tweet or updating a Facebook page is small. However, if you are producing infographics or videos that pass the purpose test, you must count all the staff and non-staff costs that relate to the design and production of these materials.

In addition, some social media will require digital imprints.

As of 1 November 2023 digital imprints must be included on some digital campaign materials, stating who is responsible for publishing the campaign material and who they’re promoting it for. There are two situations in which you would need to include a digital imprint:

  • If you have to pay to publish the advert AND its purpose can be reasonably regarded to influence the public to give or withhold support from parties, candidates, or elected office holder. Paid for digital adverts that meet these conditions require an imprint at all times, not just in the run up to an election.
  • If you register as a non-party campaigner with the Electoral Commission and the digital material is election material, you need to include an imprint.

Any organisation can spend up to £700 on regulated activity without having to register with the Electoral Commission.

Organisations with sufficient UK connection can spend up to £10,000 on regulated activity without having to notify or register with the Electoral Commission.

Organisations that intend to spend more that £10,000 on regulated activity before a UK Parliament General Election or Northern Ireland Assembly election must notify and register with the Electoral Commission. At the time of notification, you can inform that Electoral Commission that you do not intend to spend more than the ‘reporting threshold’.

Organisations who spend more than £20,000 in England or £10,000 in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland must record and report their spending and donations to the Electoral Commission – this is called the ‘reporting threshold’.

It is important to note if you only intend to spend money on regulated activities in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland then the notification threshold (£10,000) and reporting threshold (£10,000 in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland) are the same.

Once registered, you need to keep spending on regulated activity within the national and constituency spending limits.

National spending:

  • England: £586,548.60
  • Scotland: £81,571.40
  • Wales: £54,566.40
  • Northern Ireland: £39,433.600

Constituency spending: Up to £17,533.25 of the national spending limit can be spent on campaigning targeted at a particular constituency. However, reporting requirement stipulates that all national spending needs to be spread evenly across all constituencies.

Sufficient UK connection means that “Individuals and organisations that are not based in the UK or are not on a UK electoral register are not permitted to spend more than £700 on regulated campaign activity”. This means that international charities must have a separate legal entity in the UK if they are to be able to spend over £700 on regulated campaign activity.

If you notify and register with the Electoral Commission, you need to appoint a ‘responsible person’ who will be responsible for ensuring that the organisation follows electoral law.

If do not spend more than the reporting thresholds, you still need to ensure that donations are from permissible sources and have a system in place to monitor spending on regulated campaign activity but are exempt from reporting obligations.

If you want to spend above the reporting threshold, you must inform the Electoral Commission that you plan to do this before you reach the threshold and adhere to the more detailed reporting requirements.

All registered non-party campaigners must include digital imprints on election material.

Joint campaigning rules only apply if you and another organisation are “spending money as part of a common plan or arrangement” on regulated activities. If you are, all joint campaign members must count the combined spend towards their own spending limits. If the join campaign spend is above the threshold, ALL members of the campaign must register with the Electoral Commission. The Electoral Commission has detailed guidance on joint campaigning.

Check out our briefing on the Lobbying Act and read the guidance for non-party campaigners by the Electoral Commission.

Please note: These FAQs do not constitute legal advice.