The Charity Commission has reminded trustees of the rules that they must follow in the lead-up to the general election, warning that failing to comply “could risk undermining public confidence in charity”.

Parliament was formally dissolved on November 6, and the Charity Commission sent an email to trustees reminding them to read its guidance about campaigning during an election period.

The period between the end of the last parliamentary term and the formation of a new government is known as purdah, and means that civil servants and public bodies, including the Charity Commission, have to be careful about publishing anything that could be considered politically sensitive.

For charities during election periods, the Commission’s electoral guidance applies. The principles outlined in the Commission’s CC9 Speaking out: Guidance on campaigning and political activities by charities still apply during the period.

In its email to trustees, seen by Civil Society News, the regulator said: “The Commission is aware that the political context for this election is very different from that which people may have experienced in the past, which makes it all the more important that trustees read both our guidance on campaigning and political activity and the particular guidance that applies during an election. We’ve also published lessons learned during the last election in 2017.

“It is legitimate and healthy for charities to speak up for the causes they serve. But appearing to take a political position on either side could risk undermining public confidence in charity as something special, an issue which our chief executive made clear in her recent blog.”

‘This is a crucial time to stand up’

In recent elections there have been concerns that charities have been discouraged from being involved in debate.

Some charities may need to register with the Electoral Commission as third-party campaigners under the Lobbying Act. The Electoral Commission recently published guidance specifically for charities. 

NCVO has encouraged charities to make sure that they are involved in relevant debates.

Chris Walker, public affairs manager, said: “This is a crucial time for charities to stand up for the causes they care about and to shape the national debate about the future of our country.

“The rules are there to provide a supportive framework for campaigning, and the guidance from both the Charity Commission and the Electoral Commission sets out clearly how you can do this within the law.”

(From Civil Society, by Kirsty Weakley)