Lobbying Act Is Threatening Charities’ Resources And Reputation, New Report Warns

A charity’s ability to represent and work for its beneficiaries is at risk because of confusion over the Lobbying Act, warns new a report. The Lobbying Act: A Waste of Time and Resources?, published by research consultancy nfpSynergy, also found that charities are feeling anxious about possible reputational damage caused by breaking complicated new rules.

The report, out today, shows that the lack of clarity in the Lobbying Act has left many charities scared of breaching the Act, with one Public Affairs Head saying MPs have “created a monster”. As a result, some charities have had to spend valuable time and money on areas like adapting costly administrative processes and consulting legal experts. One charity mentioned in the report had even started logging all outgoing content, including tweets, Facebook posts and blogs.

The Lobbying Act, which became law in January last year, states that charities must register with the Electoral Commission to get involved in issues and policies affecting how people vote during general elections. Failure to comply with the Act can result in court action and fines for a charity, along with damage to its reputation that could last much longer.

nfpSynergy uses the report to call for the government to clarify its definition of what it means to influence the public. The paper, based on interviews with 19 staff from some of the UK’s leading charities, argues that the ambiguity of the Act is causing charities to spend significant amounts of money in fear of legal action and that this could be avoided with more consultation.

The report also wants more reassurance for small charities, as their spending is usually below the threshold and so most of them are unaffected.

Karen Barker, Researcher at nfpSynergy, said:

“This legislation was brought in to make lobbying more transparent during a General Election, but in practice it is stopping some charities from speaking out at all.

Our research clearly shows that people think charities should be advocating on behalf of their beneficiaries. Unfortunately, the lack of clarity around the Lobbying Act has many charities fearing legal consequences when they could be campaigning on issues that matter to the people who need them.

Recently we’ve heard a lot of business leaders weighing in on the general election priorities of various parties in a completely unfettered way. Why is it okay for businesses to speak out, but not charities concerned with the welfare of vulnerable people?”

This report is based on 19 in-depth interviews with public affairs and campaigning professionals working for 19 different charities in the UK. These interviews took place on the phone between 15th October and 20th December 2014. The charities range from some of the largest in the UK to some with an annual income of less than £1 million. All contributions to the report are anonymous.