Organisations and individuals that campaign ahead of an election (but are not standing candidates themselves) are known as ‘non-party campaigners’. Their activities can be subject to financial restrictions and transparency requirements – particularly during a regulated period. The regulated period is usually 365 days before a general election for ‘general campaigns’ (see below) – so, with a general election due by January 2025, the regulated period may well have already begun.

There are two key sets of rules that might impact non-party campaigners ahead of a general election: general campaigns and local campaigns. This week, the spending limits under the general campaign rules have been uprated for the first time since 2009, meaning registered non-party campaigners can spend almost double the amount they were previously allowed to spend. These new limits will apply from 1 January 2024, and spending before then is subject to the old limits.

These rules apply to campaigns that could be seen to be for or against particular parties or other ‘broad’ categories of candidate, including candidates and parties who support or oppose particular policy issues. Find out more about the rules in our Election ’24 factsheets, and our General Election 2024: Charity Campaigning Guide (due to be updated shortly).

What are the spending limits?

Up to £700 – everyone: any organisation can spend up to £700 on regulated activity – including, e.g. overseas organisations such as US charities that do not have a separate legal entity in the UK.

Up to £10,000 – only if you have a sufficient UK connection: only organisations which have a sufficient UK connection under the law can spend above £700. They can spend up to £10,000 before they have to register with the Electoral Commission to be able to spend more. This means, for example, that international charities which do not have a separate legal entity in the UK will only be able to spend £700 and not up to £10,000.

Up to £20,000 in England or £10,000 in any of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – everyone registered with the Commission as a non-party campaigner: all registered non-party campaigners can spend up to these limits, known as the ‘reporting thresholds’. If you have made a declaration that you will not spend above these thresholds, then you will commit an offence if you spend more than this without withdrawing that declaration.

Up to around £700,000 for UK-wide regulated activity – registered non-party campaigners other than those who have committed not to spend more than £20,000 in England or £10,000 in any of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland: as long as you have not declared that you will only spend up to the reporting threshold, then a registered non-party campaigner will now be able to spend up to around £700,000. This is a significant increase to the previous limit of around £390,000. This is based on the following limits for separate campaigns in each nation:

  • England – £586,548.60 (previously £319,800)
  • Northern Ireland – £39,443.60 (previously £30,800)
  • Scotland – £81,571.40 (previously £55,400)
  • Wales – £54,566.40 (previously £44,000)

Targeted spending

There are also lower spending limits for registered non-party campaigners which undertake regulated activity that can be seen to be aimed at promoting the electoral success of only one particular registered political party or any of its candidates. This should not be relevant for charities due to restrictions on party political activity under charity law. For England, this limit is now £58,654.86 (previously £31,980).

Constituency spending: In addition to the national expenditure limits set out at above, PPERA contains a limit of £17,533.25 on the amount of regulated spending that is allocated to each constituency of the UK – there are rules setting out how you apportion regulated spending across different constituencies. This is a significant increase to the previous limit of £9,750.

Controls on donations

Most registered non-party campaigners must only accept donations (including in-kind support or services and products provided at less than market value) for regulated activity from permissible sources – broadly, again, individuals and organisations with a sufficient UK connection (whether within or outside of the regulated period).

Regulated donations are reportable during the regulated period if over £7,500 (cumulatively from a single source), and all regulated donations will be reported after the election in the post-election spending return by full registered campaigners. For political parties and other regulated entities, this figure has changed to £11,180 – but it does not appear to have changed for non-party campaigners.

Donations are only regulated if they have a value over £500 and are made “for the purpose of meeting controlled expenditure incurred by or on behalf of [the registered non-party campaigner].” This £500 figure remains unchanged.

Bates Wells can help you to navigate these rules and maximise the impact of your campaign activity ahead of an election. Please get in touch with Simon Steeden, Suhan Rajkumar, Jess Collings or Max Dowbenko to find out more.