MONDAY 5 FEB 2018 1:03 PM


In September 2014, the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act 2014, widely known as the Lobbying Act, was launched. Placing boundaries on public-facing campaigns led by charities, organisations, not-for-profits and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) during or in the run-up to local, regional or national elections, the act is widely considered to negatively impact both the charity sector’s work, and the communications around it.

To counter this, social enterprise Campaign Collective has published an official ‘Freedom to Campaign’ guide aimed at easing the burden of election campaigns for charities and NGOs. The free 104-page guide focuses on how organisations can continue to effectively campaign during election periods while complying with the Lobbying Act; but it aims to counteract what has been described as the act's ‘chilling effect’ on the charity sector.

Last year, findings from Campaign Collective and B2B marketing research agency Sapio Research showed that around half of charity communicators did not fully understand Lobbying Act rules; clarity in its messaging is the different between failure and success. Nancy Platts, member of Campaign Collective and co-author of the guide, says, “As a former parliamentary candidate at two general elections, I saw a marked decrease in the number of small charities and campaigners approach me after the 2010 General Election and once the Lobbying Act was introduced.”

For Campaign Collective, this signifies a worrying trend whereby stringent regulation, along with a lack of clear guidance, hinders charitable organisations from helping the most vulnerable in society. “The Freedom to Campaign Guide is designed to be a simple, plain English interpretation of more than 104 pages of official guidance which small charities and campaigners could not be expected to wade through,” explains Platts.

The ’Freedom to Campaign’ guide was launched follows the government’s recent rejection of the reforms to the law proposed by the Hodgson Review, in which Conservative Party peer Lord Hodgson made a series of recommendations into how the Lobbying Act could be amended. This included a repeal of the ‘Purpose Act,’ which currently hamstrings charities into second-guessing how their campaign activities will be received by the Electoral Commission. The act does not, however, allow for the argument that the outcome of a campaign could be unintentionally political.

Another key recommendation by Lord Hodgson was reducing the defined ‘campaign period’ from one year to four months. The one-year period currently covered by the act means that charitable organisations could theoretically be permanently bound by Electoral Commission rules, given the unpredictable nature of UK election cycles. However the above recommendations have, along with others, been rejected.

“The PRCA has long been calling for better, easier to understand guidance into what charities can do, rather than lists of what they can’t,” says Simon Francis, chairman of the Public Relations and Communication Association (PRCA)’s charity and not for profit group. “It’s encouraging that this guide has been launched in lieu of easily understandable official guidance. I hope this will give charities the freedom and confidence to campaign.”

The Freedom to Campaign Guide can be downloaded from the Campaign Collective website here.

Image: Howard Lake

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