Illustration of people holding campaigning banners

How do charity campaigning rules change during the election?

UK general elections are a fantastic opportunity for NGOs to speak out about the issues that matter to them. Here’s all you need to know about campaigning rules in the run-up to polling day.

Unless you’ve been under a rock you’ll know by now that the UK general election has been set for 4 July 2024. In the coming weeks, there are specific rules charities need to follow. It’s important to get your head around these so you can carry on campaigning.

Why campaign at elections?

All eyes are on the political parties and what they are offering voters across a wide range of policy areas. Parliamentary candidates up and down the country are out and about, knocking on doors and taking part in hustings. Elections can be a great opportunity to speak to candidates about what their policies are and persuade them to act on the issues that matter to you and your supporters.

How do the rules change at elections?

Charity campaigning in the UK is subject to rules all year round, such as the requirement to be independent of party politics. However, there are additional rules that all charities need to comply with in the run-up to an election. These rules relate to two separate sets of law – charity law and electoral law – which are overseen by two independent regulators: the Charity Commission and the Electoral Commission.

Charity law and campaigning at elections

  • Charity law applies all the time, but there are further rules you need to follow at elections.
  • All charities must be and be seen to be independent of political parties and candidates. This is especially important in the run-up to an election.
  • You cannot attempt to influence voter behaviour or encourage support for any political party or candidate.
  • You can have the same policy as a political party and can continue to campaign for this policy as long as you make clear your independence from that political party.
  • You can promote your views on issues, and you can publish the views of political parties and candidates, but you cannot compare them.
  • You can invite candidates to speak at an event, but it’s often best to invite speakers from across the political spectrum to maintain your independence.

The Charity Commission has put out new social media guidance that charities should familiarise themselves with.

The Chair of the Charity Commission recently published a blog on campaigning at elections, which reassures charities that it is right and legitimate for charities to speak out ahead of polling day, but stresses the need for “charities to engage in public discourse in a way that promotes respect, tolerance and consideration for others”.

Electoral law and campaigning at elections

Often referred to as the dreaded ‘lobbying act’, electoral law applies to all charities and other non-party campaigners (people or organisations not standing for election) for a full year ahead of polling day.

Here are the main points to know.

  • Electoral law regulates spending on public campaigning activities which a reasonable person might think are intended to influence voters to support or withhold support from political parties, candidates or groups of candidates at a general election.
  • If you spend over £10,000 on these activities anywhere in the UK (including staff time) then you will need to give notice to the Electoral Commission that you are undertaking regulated activity. You must give this notice before reaching the £10,000 threshold. If you spend over £20,000 in England, or £10,000 in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, then you need to register as a non-party campaigner and report your spending.
  • Campaigning activities are only regulated when they are both “made available to the public” and meet the “purpose test”. Activities that meet the purpose test are those that can be “reasonably regarded as intended to promote or procure the electoral success of : one or more political parties or candidates who support or do not support particular policies or another particular category of candidates”.
  • If you are part of a joint campaign, all members of the campaign must count any spend on regulated activity undertaken as part of the joint campaign towards their individual spending totals.

The main thing to remember is that, in the run-up to the election, charities can and should continue to campaign, but it’s important to be aware of the rules so you can campaign with confidence.

Understanding UK election and charity rules: a refresher and Q&A for NGOs

Join us on Monday 10th June (14:00-15:00 BST) for the second of our online webinars for Bond members, Understanding UK election and charity rules: a refresher and Q&A for NGOs.

During this interactive webinar, Rowan Popplewell, Bond’s Policy Manager on Civic Space, will update you on the regulatory framework that informs how you campaign during this election period.

This 1-hour session will cover:

  • A summary of charity and election law
  • Recent developments
  • How to approach organisational risk appetite
  • Q&A to explore your organisational issues

Find out more

Want to know more?

More detailed guidance can be found on Bond’s website and on the Electoral Commission and Charity Commission websites. You can also watch this webinar that Bond ran with the law firm Bates Wells earlier this year.

If you are a Bond member, watch out for special webinars in the run-up to polling day where Bond staff will be on hand to answer your questions on campaigning rules and anything else election-related.