New Electoral Commission guidance published today

The Electoral Commission yesterday published new guidance for non-party campaigners, ahead of the general election that is widely expected to be fast approaching. 

The guidance is intended to help charities, businesses, individuals and other non-parties engaged in advocacy and campaigning to understand the rules that apply to non-party campaigning in the run-up to an election, under the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 (sometimes referred to as the “Lobbying Act”, as the rules were amended and expanded by the Transparency of Lobbying Act 2014).

We welcome the revision of the Electoral Commission’s guidance – the Commission has engaged very positively and proactively with the sector in drawing it up, and the new guidance is all the better for it.  It is readable and accessible, which should be helpful in ensuring that (particularly smaller) organisations are not unnecessarily deterred from engaging with these rules and undertaking activities which may result in regulated spending. The new guidance includes some clear and positive assurances that should help charities and others maintain their voice in the run up to an election, such as by recognising that “If you are a charity and abide by charity law and guidance from the relevant charity regulator, in most circumstances your campaign activity is unlikely to meet the purpose test.”  The guidance includes helpful case studies based on actual examples from previous campaigns, which should help campaigners understand how to apply the rules. As a result, the guidance has been positively received by the sector.

Perhaps inevitably, to make it as accessible as possible, the guidance is necessarily high level – which may mean that there are certain areas in which campaigners could still find it difficult to apply some of the rules in practice.  This is partly because the Commission has so far only reissued its core guidance, and has not yet revisited the more specific guidance it has previously issued in relation to particular areas, such as the joint working rules, which many clients find to be one of the most difficult areas to navigate.  However, the Commission has made some helpful additions in this area, such as by recognising that a campaigner will not be working jointly with another campaigner (and so jointly responsible for its regulated spending) solely because it endorses another campaign without having any further involvement – for example by signing a letter written by another campaigner, adding branding to another campaign or publicising your support for another campaign.  We hope that the resources we have prepared in partnership with others in the sector, together with the new Electoral Commission guidance, will help many more campaigners navigate these rules and carry on campaigning, even during the unprecedented current levels of political instability.

We’ve prepared a suite of resources and guidance to help charities to negotiate the rules around campaigning. Click here to view.

This information is necessarily of a general nature and doesn’t constitute legal advice. This is not a substitute for formal legal advice, given in the context of full information under an engagement with Bates Wells.

All content on this page is correct as of September 24, 2019.