NCVO’s chief executive has said he is concerned that charities are “unduly stifling their voices” because they are unnecessarily afraid of the Lobbying Act.
Sir Stuart Etherington has written to NCVO members to reassure them that they should campaign with confidence, because he is concerned that “confusion is spreading about the impact of the Lobbying Act”.
He said: “We are approaching a situation where fear and misunderstanding are doing far greater harm to charity campaigning than the legislation itself.”
Etherington said that while the act is “flawed and there is scope for substantial improvement”, for most charities it should not prevent them from campaigning.
The Lobbying Act requires charities, and other organisations campaigning during election periods, to register with the Electoral Commission if they will spend £20,000 on activity that could be seen to influence people to vote for a particular party.
Under charity law organisations are prohibited from being party political, and the Charity Commission has extra guidance for charities about how to campaign during elections.
Etherington said charities should take care to be apolitical and follow guidance, but that this left plenty of scope to speak out.
He said: “They must be prudent about maintaining their independence from party politics. But they also have a right and a duty to speak up on behalf of their beneficiaries. The Lobbying Act does not stop charities from doing this.”
Etherington urged charities to get in touch with NCVO if they are confused.