Regulation and Legislation - Campaigning
"Campaigning, advocacy and political activity are all legitimate and valuable activities for charities to undertake. Many charities have strong links to their beneficiaries and more generally to their local communitiesbecause of this, they are uniquely placed to campaign and advocate on behalf of their beneficiaries."
Charity Commission, March 2008
Whether you are trying to save a local community centre from closing or lobbying central government you are responsible for ensuring that your campaigning activity falls within the law. The environment is shaped by both regulation and legislation. Charities are regulated by the Charity Commission and the main piece of regulation that guides charities on the campaigning and political activity is CC9. There have also been a number of laws over the past decade, both positive and negative, that have had an impact on the freedom of organisations to campaign.
- CC9 - Speaking Out
- Communications Act 2003
- Freedom of Information Act 2000
- Human Rights Act
You might also be interested in our Frequently Asked Questions on charities, campaigning and elections.
The Advisory Group on Campaigning and the Voluntary Sector, chaired by Baroness Helena Kennedy QC sought to address many of the legal and regulatory restrictions surrounding campaigning. Their report, published in 2007, highlighted that campaigning in the 21st century takes place in a minefield of confusion, obstruction and outdated interpretations of the law' and called for a clear and unequivocal framework to support campaigning by charities.
Charities' right to campaign must be recognised and encouraged by Government, irrespective of any funding relationship. There must be an enabling environment for lawful protest and peaceful assembly, which ensures any legal restrictions on campaigning activity are not unduly prohibitive.
Due to confusion around the wording of CC9 and therefore lack of confidence in campaigning, the Charity Commission released new guidance on CC9 in March 2008. Although there has been no change in the law, the revised guidance now gives charities that want to campaign greater confidence and clearer advice on the law. In particular, the guidance clarifies that:
- Campaigning and political activity are entirely legitimate activities for charities.
- A charity can devote all of its resources to a campaign that seeks to raise awareness, education or behaviour change and can also campaign to change a law or policy provided that this activity does not become the charities' sole or continuing purpose.
- A charity can campaign even if this has not been written down in its charitable purposes.
- A charity can campaign using emotive or controversial material where it is lawful and justifiable in the context of the campaign.
- The promotion of human rights, since the 1998 Human Right Act, is now seen as charitable rather than political activity.
The Charity Commission guidance makes a distinction between campaigning and political activity and the amount of resources a charity can devote to them. A charity can devote all of its resources to non-political campaigning activity such as changing behaviour or raising awareness. Charities can also carry out political activity, such as trying to change a law or government policy, until its goal has been met, but political activity can not become the only activity of a charity, indefinitely; it should be a means to an end, rather than the end itself.
It is also important to remember that whilst campaigning and political activity are perfectly legitimate activities for a charity, party political activity, such as seeking to persuade people to vote for or against a candidate or political party, is not allowed and charities must remain independent and politically neutral.
CC9 Speaking Out - Guidance on Campaigning and Political Activity by Charities (Version March 2008)
Read article by Charity Commission's Rosie Chapman on political campaigning in Third Sector magazine
Read Charity Commission guidance for use by charities during the period between the announcement of an election, and the date on which an election is held.
This Act created Ofcom as the media regulator and contains a ban on political' advertising on broadcast media such as TV and radio. For example advertisements will be banned if they seek to influence changes to a law or government policy or if they are directed towards influencing public opinion on a matter which, in the UK, is a matter of public controversy.
Critics say that this law prevents social advocacy' organisations from advertising on television and radio. There are also concerns that parts of the Act may be incompatible with Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights: Everyone has the right to freedom of expression.
The Advisory Group report recommends the creation of a new legislative framework that would permit non-political advertising by NGOs and charities and the broadcast of social advocacy advertisements on radio and television but restrict the broadcast of advertising for political parties.
Examples where this law has been used
The Make Poverty History 'click' advert received blanket coverage from all commercial broadcasters in March 2005 but in the run up to the G8 meeting in Gleneagles was later banned by the media regulator Ofcom. Ofcom deemed Make Poverty History as a "body" whose adverts were "towards a political end" and therefore prohibited further TV and radio advertising under the Communications Act 2003.
Animal Defenders International (ADI) challenged the restrictions on political advertising after an advert about the use of primates was banned from being broadcast on TV and radio, not for the content of the advertisement but because under the Communications Act 2003 the organisation is deemed to be a political group'. Having lost both their high court challenge and the appeal in the House of Lords ADI have now taken the case to the European Court of Human Rights. The European Court of Human Rights have recently found in favour in a similar case from Switzerland citing the right to freedom of expression. We will keep you updated.
This Act allows UK citizens to get information about the way government comes to decisions at both local and central level. The laws cover more than 100,000 public authorities including: Government departments, Local authorities, the NHS and the Police. The Freedom of Information Act is an excellent tool to provide more information for the evidence base of a campaign as any one can make a request under the Act.
Passed in 1998 this act enshrines fundamental rights and freedoms from the European Convention on Human Rights into UK law making it quicker and easier for you to claim your rights. The Act states that public authorities, government departments, local authorities etc, must pay proper attention to rights when they are making decisions concerning you.
How to use it
For example the Human Rights Act can be a vital tool for those wishing to improve the quality of public services as it requires public authorities not only to ensure that the rights of individuals are upheld, but it also places them under a positive obligation to promote people's rights, particularly those who are vulnerable or excluded.
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