The Lobbying Act: Deciding whether to register

Do I need to register?

When I talk to our members about the Lobbying Act the first question I’m usually asked is ‘do I need to register?’

For most organisations, the decision whether to register will be taken by their trustees. To help them make the right decision, campaign and public affairs staff need to determine their plans for the coming year with estimates of time and resources to be spent. They must make sure they are able to evidence to their board whether that activity may fall within the regulations or could be perceived to do so.

Where do I start?

Answering these five questions is a good place to start:

  1. Is your campaigning activity public facing?
  2. Could your activity reasonably be regarded as intended to promote or procure electoral success for an individual candidate or party?
  3. Including staff costs, will you be spending £20,000 on activity between 19 September 2014 and 7 May 2015?
  4. Or will you be spending £9,750 targeted on a specific constituency?
  5. Will you be working in coalition with other charities?

The Electoral Commission’s guidance, due to be published at the start of July, should help answer many of these questions. However, many organisations are already planning their activities now, and the two months over the summer before the regulated period begin are unlikely to be enough.

Even if you think the answer to all of these questions is no, the fun doesn’t stop there. With the scope of ‘public activity’ currently undefined some organisations that were not initially expecting to may be caught up in the regulations.

The Electoral Commission has been clear that it does not have the resources to police the regulations in real time. Instead they will be broadly reliant on referrals and complaints from others. As such even if you are clear that you will not need to register, being able to evidence that decision could be very important. Having the evidence ready is good practice and easier than trying to gather it retrospectively.

Can you give me any good news?

That all sounds quite negative, but there are some big positives. Through the Lobbying Bill debates, the sector was given reassurances by ministers, by the opposition, and even by the Prime Minister that campaigning is seen as a key part of what charities do and that the day-to-day campaigning of charities will not be caught. The aim of the Act is not to stop charities speaking out.

The Lobbying Act does not prevent charities from campaigning; it places reporting requirements and maximum spending limits on campaigning activities that have an effect on the election.

A real fear is that trustees of voluntary sector organisations will be wary of being caught up in the regulation and so will self-regulate more cautiously than they actually need.

Where can I find out more?

NCVO are holding a breakfast session on 13 May to help senior managers and trustees understand how the Lobbying Act is likely to affect them. The event will help you if you are unsure of whether you need to register, or if you think that you do not but want to make sure you can evidence your decision.

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Charlotte was our senior external relations officer and public affairs consultant. She has left NCVO

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