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What rules apply to charities in the run-up to elections?

26th Jan 2024 | Charities & Social Enterprise
The Union Jack flag flying in front of the Houses of Parliament

Charities, at all times, must take care to maintain their independence and separation from the political sphere.

However, charities must follow additional rules between the announcement of an election and the date on which that election is held. With talk of the UK’s next general election growing, what do charities need to be particularly aware of during this period?  

Samantha Pritchard, partner, and Ryan Douglas, paralegal, in our charities team, highlight the key considerations for your charity.

Campaigning versus political activity

The Commission makes a distinction between “campaigning” and “political activity”.

  • Campaigning means awareness-raising and efforts to educate or involve the public by mobilising their support on a particular issue, or to influence or change public attitudes.
  • Political activity means trying to secure support for, or oppose, a change in the law or in the policy or decision of central government, local authorities, or other public bodies (including in the UK and abroad).

While charities can temporarily engage in political activity to directly further their charitable purposes, they cannot pursue their aims purely through political activity and can never show support or opposition for a particular political party or political candidate.


Charities may push for their own policy ideas to be put in place which would further their purposes. It may be that their policies are similar to, or the same as, some policies put forward by political parties in manifestos during the election period.

It is acceptable for charities to continue to campaign for these policies during the election period, provided that the charity is not encouraging support for a particular political party just because its policies align with the charity’s.


Charities must not create public materials that include any direct comparison between the work of the charity and that of any political party or candidate. The Commission stresses that while charities can attempt to influence public opinion on an issue, they must “leave it to the electorate to decide how to vote”.

If your charity is approached by a political party for permission to refer to the charity in the party’s election manifesto, the request must be refused.


Your charity cannot support or oppose a political party or candidate and cannot donate any funds to a political party at any time.

Candidates and representatives of political parties can be invited to speak at meetings on issues which are relevant to the charity, but the trustees must ensure that support for a particular party is not being encouraged, for example, by inviting speakers from a range of parties across the political spectrum where possible.


Charities are allowed to approach candidates in an election and ask their opinions on issues the charity is concerned about.

Charities should, however, be cautious about the association the public may make between the charity and a particular candidate or party.

Individuals connected to a charity can choose to assist a candidate in their personal capacity but officers and employees of a charity should never use their position in the charity to promote campaigning activity.

Charities should consider how they can communicate and work with their staff and trustees to make it clear that any individual who wishes to assist candidates or a political party doing so in their personal capacity and not as representatives of the charity.


Electoral law may require a charity to make their premises available to a candidate to hold public meetings.

Where there is no legal requirement, requests to use facilities should be treated the same as any other normal hire and charged at the appropriate rate.

Non-party campaigning

Even if your charity is complying with the Charity Commission’s guidance on rules during the election period, or its more general guidance on campaigning and political activity, your charity could still be considered a non-party campaigner if it is using material that could be perceived by the public that particular candidates or parties support or oppose your policies.

A non-party campaigner is a person or organisation which campaigns in an election but is not standing for election. Such campaigners must follow rules set out by the Electoral Commission and these rules apply equally to charities as to anyone else.

If your charity could potentially be considered a non-party campaigner you may need to register with the Electoral Commission and follow the laws on campaign spending, donations and reporting. The Electoral Commission has specific guidance on non-party campaigners which is available here.

Further information

The independence of charities is fundamental to the sector and charities must pay close attention to the rules surrounding elections during this period.

The Charity Commission’s specific guidance ‘Charities, Elections and Referendums’ can be found here.

Please contact Samantha Pritchard with any legal queries you may have using [email protected] or 0191 211 7905.

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