Charities must have the freedom to campaign

Posted on 17/01/2018


Charities have a vital role to play in campaigning for positive social change as they are well placed to spot the unintended consequences of legislation and can highlight gaps that risk leaving sections of our society behind.

Even the Charity Commission for England and Wales acknowledges that while charities must be independent from party politics they must still be able to use their voice effectively at election times.

But measures introduced by the Government, such as the Lobbying Act, are continuing to take a heavy toll on voluntary, charity and social enterprise (VCSE) campaigning, according to the latest Sheila McKechnie Foundation Campaigner Survey.

Overall, 90% of respondents believe campaigning by the VCSE sector is under threat and 49% say things have got worse since last year. 87% of respondents believe that government measures are threatening the legitimacy of campaigning and, for the second year running, the research shows that the chilling effect of the Lobbying Act is a very real issue.

But the worst thing the sector can do is be cowed into silence. Charities must reject the advice of those who claimed in May that it was “safer” for charities not to say anything during a period regulated by the Lobbying Act.

Nonsense. Nothing is further from the truth.

While most sector bodies opposed the Lobbying Act and gave similar evidence to the House of Lords, Hodgson and Harries enquiries opposing the restrictions of the Act, the government has rejected implementing any changes to the Act.

We must move on.

The ease in which the Fixed Term Parliaments Act was overturned to call the 2017 General Election and the precarious nature of the political climate has meant that a “regulated period” as defined in the Act could be instigated at any time.

This in itself should be enough of a wake-up call to stop avoiding the impact of the regulations, but embrace the reality of the situation.

The Charity Commission and Electoral Commission have rejected approaches to make easy to understand guidance available to campaigners. So we can’t rely on regulators to explain themselves.

The sector must take responsibility for finding a way through the muddle.


That’s why communications social enterprise Campaign Collective has created a guide to what campaigners CAN do under the Lobbying Act.

The Freedom To Campaign Guide that launches today distils 104 pages of official guidance into an easy to understand summary and is free to access at

Rather than oppose the regulations, let’s get smart with them.