Charities and political activity: general election 2024

Charities play an important role in advocating for policy change on behalf of beneficiaries and elections can be a key opportunity to further your charitable and campaigning goals.

As we approach the next UK General Election on 4 July 2024, charities may be planning how to ensure their concerns are on the agendas of candidates and any future government.

Can charities campaign in the run-up to an election? Yes, they absolutely can.

However, we know many charities are concerned about the potential risks, both legal and reputational, of political campaigning.
In this post we have highlighted the key legal issues for charities to think about.

What do we mean by ‘campaigning’ and ‘political activity’?

Campaigning generally refers to the ways charities and other organisations achieve their goals through influencing particular audiences. In this post, we are specifically referring to ‘political activity’ as defined by the Charity Commission, being:

“… activity by a charity which is aimed at securing, or opposing, any change in the law or in the policy or decisions of central government, local authorities or other public bodies, whether in this country or abroad.”

Political activity is seen as higher risk for charities than, for example, campaigning to change public attitudes. Because of this, political campaigning has specific rules that charities must follow.

Campaigning is a legitimate activity for charities and this remains the case during elections. The law requires charities to be independent of party politics. That means they can’t give their support to, or fund, political parties or candidates.

Can charities support and oppose political policies?

Yes, absolutely. Charities can support and oppose the policies of political parties. But trustees should consider how this could affect public perceptions of your charity’s independence. As such, the wording of any statement expressing support or opposition to any policy must be carefully drafted. Charities should ensure that any such support or opposition of a policy relates to the charitable purposes.

Electoral law

Electoral law is overseen by the Electoral Commission. They set rules on how much you can spend on certain types of campaigning activities.

Most charities won’t carry out enough regulated activity to meet the threshold for registration as a non-party campaigner. However, charities can register if their planned campaigning activity meets this threshold.

If you spend £10,000 on regulated activity across the UK you will need to register as a non-party campaigner with the Electoral Commission. If you spend £20,000 in England, or £10,000 in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, you will need to report spending and donations related to your regulated expenditure.

See the Electoral Commission’s guidance for more detailed information.

Charity Dos and Don’ts

Charities can:

  • Campaign in the run up to an election
  • Publish their own manifestos, outlining policy changes favourable to their beneficiaries and in line with their objects
  • Organise and engage in public debate

Charities cannot:

  • Engage in party politics
  • Accept a political party’s request to appear in its manifesto
  • Explicitly compare their views with those of a particular candidate or party

Practical considerations for charities

Before engaging in campaigning or political activity, trustees should check the charity’s governing document for any reference to this area. They should also assess risks, including reputational risk and risks to their independence. Geldards have a handy checklist to assist charities thinking about engaging in political activities or campaigning.

Further information

  • Charity Commission CC9, 5 minute guide and additional guidance
  • Electoral Commission Non-party campaigner Code of Practice
  • NCVO Political Campaigning as a charity guidance

Contact Bethan Walsh, Head of Charities for a copy of our checklist:

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