The Charity Commission has been in contact with the Family and Childcare Trust over its political neutrality after a Conservative MP raised concerns that the organisation has been undertaking party-political activity on Twitter.
The complaint came from Rob Wilson, MP for Reading East, who said the Charity Commission should update its guidance on campaigning and political activity to include social media.
Wilson wrote to the Charity Commission late last year expressing concerns about the Family and Childcare Trust's Twitter activity. He said that through the social media platform, the charity has been “associating itself closely with, to the extent of providing its endorsement and support to, the Labour Party’s online campaigning”.
He highlighted that the charity had been using the hashtag #childcarecrisis on its Twitter feed, a hashtag also used by the Labour Party on Twitter.
He added: “It is also a phrase that has been used by the Labour Party in other contexts recently, such as the title of a comment piece for the Fabian Society by shadow minister for childcare and children, Lucy Powell MP.”
Wilson also complained that the Family and Childcare Trust had used the hashtag #childcarecrunch, which was the core slogan of a campaign on growing childcare costs launched by Labour leader Ed Miliband.
Wilson also pointed out to the Commission that the Family and Childcare Trust’s chief executive, Anand Shukla, is a former parliamentary and local council candidate for the Labour Party.
He concluded his complaint by saying that he understood the Charity Commission’s guidance for charities on campaigning and political activity predated the widespread use of Twitter, but he added that it was now important for the regulator to update its guidance in light of the increasing use of social media.
He also urged the Commission to investigate the Family and Childcare Trust’s use of Twitter.
Commission: charity has not contravened guidance
In a letter from the Charity Commission to Wilson, covered today on popular political blog Order Order, the regulator said it is “not clear that the charity has acted contrary to our guidance on campaigning and political activity”.
But the Commission does add that “it is possible that public perceptions of its independence could have been adversely affected”.
The Charity Commission says it will contact the charity's trustees to raise the issue and “provide regulatory advice on the need to maintain the charity’s independence and manage public perceptions of this”.
Trust: Preparing a response
Commenting on the matter, Shukla said: “We have received a letter from the Charity Commission and we are preparing a response. We are confident that the Charity Commission will find that the Family and Childcare Trust has fully complied with its guidelines.”