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Snap General Election Announced for 8 June 2017 - What Will this Mean for Charities?

on Tuesday, 18 April 2017.

There are two key areas of impact for our charity clients.

The first is the increased need for caution around activity and statements which could have a political dynamic. The second is what changes they can expect from government departments whom they are dealing with.

Political Activity

A general election at once brings live political issues to the fore but at the same time increases the vigilance of the public and the Charity Commission to the prospect of charities becoming inappropriately involved in politics. Indeed after the 2015 general election, the Charity Commission published a report describing complaints made to it and the action it took in respect of political activity.

The rules around campaigning for change are complicated and explained in a lengthy Charity Commission publication called Speaking Out - guidance on campaigning and political activities by charities. There is additional guidance addressing the additional issues and risks at an election time called Charities elections and referendums.

The key message at this time is to take especial care to avoid the implication that the charity is supporting a party or a candidate. Examples the Commission looked into from the 2015 election include:

  • posters or promotional material being displayed on or at premises
  • giving a reference for a candidate
  • political content in social media including re-publishing content of others containing political material
  • prominent charity officers advocating for or becoming associated with support for political parties or candidates
  • charities becoming associated with candidates who are involved with them or by letting charity facilities to political parties
  • support of events which cross over from furthering charity's work and into election politics
  • comments on which party has policies most supportive of the charity

Purdah

For charities with live projects in which the Charity Commission, the Privy Council Office, DfE, HEFCE or any other government department are involved, the general election may be disruptive. We would not anticipate great disruption to routine casework involving advice or permissions by the Charity Commission.

However, in the run up to a general election government departments take steps to ensure their impartiality as between political administrations, rules commonly known as Purdah. On 20 April, updated rules for the 2017 general election were published. Discretion is generally observed in decisions where a new incoming government might take a different view:

  • Departments may not be able to take concrete steps which reflect the current government's policy particularly if they implement long-term changes. This is particularly likely to affect charities within the education sector undertaking major restructuring projects, for example academy conversions.
  • Departments are unlikely to proceed with any project which requires them to undertake a consultation exercise.

Conclusion

A general election is a time for charities to be vigilant to manage the risks associated with political activity. Even where a charity's actions are entirely appropriate, there is the risk of dealing with a complaint, involvement of the Charity Commission and the potential for adverse publicity. It is also a time when charities need to be prepared for the impact of civil service impartiality rules, slowing down progress on projects with government.


For further information, please contact Andrew Wherrett in our Charity Law team on 0117 314 5269.

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