Six charity membership bodies have written to the Cabinet Office calling for urgent amendments to the Lobbying Act, which, they say, hindered charity campaigning during the election.
In a letter to Damian Green, the new minister for the Cabinet Office, charities say that the Lobbying Act has had a “disproportionate impact on charity campaigning” and that the “excessive and unreasonable red tape the Lobbying Act places on charities”, and confusion around what was required, prevented charities from engaging in public debate during the lead-up to the election.
The letter was co-ordinated by Bond, the infrastructure body for international aid charities, and signed by NCVO, Acevo, the Charities Aid Foundation, the Small Charities Coalition and Navca.
They say that the changes recommended by Lord Hodgson in a review commissioned by the government should be implemented. They also highlight that the House of Lords Select Committee on Charities backed Hodgson’s recommendations.
Prospect of another election
The group said that the prospect of another election in the near future means that the issue must be addressed as soon as possible.
Tamsyn Barton, chief executive at Bond, said: “With a hung parliament, there is a possibility that another general election could be called earlier than expected and not in five years’ time, as stated under the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act. Does this mean that charities should still be working within the confines of the Lobbying Act to avoid falling foul when it is applied retrospectively?
“The government must urgently revise the Lobbying Act to give charities the confidence they need to speak out for the vulnerable voices they represent – especially amid political uncertainty.”
Sir Stuart Etherington, chief executive of NCVO, said: “Given the changing policy climate created by the general election result, it is important to raise this issue with the minister as soon as possible.
“There is clear cross-party and sector support for the changes Lord Hodgson suggests. Adoption of them will be an important first step for the new government, to show it is listening to charities, which are crucial to building a stronger economy and society.”
Putting charities off
They also highlight that complying with the Lobbying Act is costing charities time and money.
Vicky Browning, chief executive of Acevo, said: “Charity leaders have also told me that compliance with this ambiguous legislation has significant costs attached, particularly in terms of time, labour and money, which distracts and detracts from their activities.
John Low, chief executive of the Charities Aid Foundation, said: “The election campaign has unveiled the true impact of the Lobbying Act, with the ‘chilling effect’ that charities warned of, sadly casting a shadow over their engagement in the campaign.”
While the Small Charities Coalition warned that charities had been discouraged from campaigning during the election.
John Barrett, chief executive of Small Charities Coalition, said: “Despite the majority of small charities falling below the threshold of the Lobbying Act, the legislation has still created unintended caution and anxiety for members wishing to speak up about their causes during the election period.”
Joint letter to Damian Green