Article

Charity Commission guidance on UK elections

11 June 2024 | Applicable law: England and Wales | 5 minute read

The Charity Commission has, on 29 May 2024, released new guidance on campaigning and political activity, specifically highlighting lessons learned from previous elections. This, of course, follows the announced from Prime Minister Rishi Sunak that there will be a general election in the United Kingdom on 4 July 2024.

These 'lessons learned' follow on from the general campaigning and political activity guidance for charities (CC9) and the supplementary guidance on the period between the announcement of an election, and the date on which an election is held.

In summary, there are 8 key lessons which charities should learn from.

1.    Supporting or criticising particular policies

Charities may support or criticise policies, where this furthers their purposes and is in the best interests of the charity, but should ensure this does not imply support for, or criticism of, a particular political party.

2.    Supporting or criticising a political party or a political candidate

Charities must not assist candidates with their election campaigns, financially or otherwise, or give any form of explicit partisan support.  Charities must also take steps to demonstrate their political neutrality.  If particular policies from one party/candidate are repeatedly supported or criticised this risks neutrality.

3.    Political activity and campaigning by a charity trustee or employees

Whilst charity trustees and employees are allowed to run for office, the trustees need to ensure the potential conflicts of interest are considered and put appropriate policies and procedures in place.

4.    Use of charity premises

Charities are allowed to rent out their premises to political parties, however trustees should ensure any decision does not call into question the charity's neutrality.  Furthermore, some charities (eg schools) may be required by electoral law to make available their premises to political candidates.

5.    Visits to charities by prospective candidates

This has been a particularly scrutinised topic recently.  Where charities invite political candidates to speak they must ensure that it cannot be said the charity is endorsing the candidate by giving them a platform. Trustees should be able to justify why the visit took place, how it furthered the charity’s purposes, and how they ensure the visit did not result in any perceived endorsement for the candidate.

6.    Mis/disinformation

Charities are entitled, where appropriate, to enter into the debate and share information relating to particular topics of interest.  Where they do this, trustees need to ensure that any information shared is accurate.

7.    Links with associated non-charitable organisations carrying our political activities and campaigning

Any charity with links to an organisation of this sort should ensure they have identified any risks and minimised them.    

8.    Political candidates using information on charities in their campaigns

Where a political candidate uses a charity's research or material to support their policies, the trustees should be prepared in advance for how they will respond to this.

The Charity Commission also makes references to the Electoral Commission's 'Non-party campaigner Code of Practice' and charities may wish to also review this in order to be mindful of electoral law.

Finally, the Charity Commission has also released mirror guidance for political candidates on how they should engage with charities and this aims to explain what a charity can and cannot do during this time from another perspective.

This document (and any information accessed through links in this document) is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Professional legal advice should be obtained before taking or refraining from any action as a result of the contents of this document.

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