Now that the election has been confirmed for 12 December 2019, the Charity Commission has sent a reminder to all charities of their particular responsibilities in the weeks ahead.
The guiding principle of charity law in terms of elections is that charities must be, and seen to be, independent from party politics.
Charity law applies to all types of charities from ones that are registered with the Charity Commission –unincorporated charities, charitable companies and charitable incorporated organisations (CIO). To charities that are unregistered –charitable unincorporated associations.
The political context for this election is very different from what people may have experienced in the past. It is recommended that trustees read the appropriate Charity Commission guidance, to make sure their charity is complying with the rules.
In the Charity Commission guidance – charities elections and referendums it explains how to steer clear of comparing the views of the charity with those of political parties or candidates taking part in the election.
The key legal principles from their guidance on political activity (CC9) is that charities should remember:
- Charities cannot have political purposes, and campaigning and political activity must only be undertaken by a charity in the context of supporting the delivery of their charitable purposes
- In the political arena, a charity must stress its independence and ensure that any involvement it has with political parties is balanced; a charity must not give support or funding to a political party, candidate or politician
- A charity may give its support to or raise concerns about specific policies advocated by political parties if it would help achieve its charitable purposes as long as it makes clear its independence from any political party
- Trustees must protect their charity and not allow it to be used as a vehicle for the expression of the party political views of any individual trustee or staff member or by a party or candidate
The chief executive of the Charity Commission has written a blog called Charities and political campaigning: a reflection on charities’ responsibilities,
In the blog, she states “If charities appear to the public to be engaged in political debate, not because they are representing their beneficiaries or bringing expertise, but because they are taking a position on one side of a political divide, this undermines public confidence in charity as something special, which can inspire trust where other institutions do not.”
The Charity Commission have also published lessons learned during the last election in 2017. This publication includes case studies they dealt with during 2017 election. Such as Scope who sought advice from the commission after the Labour Party’s manifesto referred twice to research carried out by the charity in 2013.
Finally, they advise charities to be aware of the rules on what is called ‘third party campaigning’ under electoral law, which may affect your charity. The Electoral Commission has worked closely with charities to produce Non-party campaigners: where to start, using real-life case studies to provide advice to charity campaigners.
The guidance is for anyone spending significant amounts of money on issues-based campaigns, who will need to ascertain if any of their campaign spending should be regulated.
If your charity would like any advice on this topic, please contact our helpline on 0116 257 5050.
If you are using the online contact form, please select “ support for your voluntary organisation” in the drop down box.