Lobbying Act - 10 Things to Know

With the Lobbying Bill receiving Royal Assent on 30 January 2014, find out the key things you need to know about this new legislation and the impact it may have on your organisation.

The Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill (Lobbying Act) received Royal Assent on 30 January 2014 and changed a number of rules for non-party campaigners and their activities during election periods.

It changed:

  • When the rules apply
  • Registration thresholds
  • What spending is covered, how much campaigners can spend on campaigning activities and what campaigners need to report to the Electoral Commission

The new rules cover spending on a wider range of campaigning activities:

  • Election material available to members of the public
  • Canvassing or market research seeking views or information from, members of the public.
  • Press conferences or media events organised
  • Transport connected with publicising a campaign
  • Public rallies or other public events

NICVA joined lots of other organisations in opposing the introduction of the lobby bill.  We believe that it was unnecessary legislation that amounted to an attack on the independent voice of the voluntary and community sector. We still believe this and are part of the campaign to have the act repealed.

What you need to know

Now that the act has passed into law its important organisations familiarise themselves with it.

The Electoral Commission have recently published their guidance on the Act.Here a few key points in relation to the Act and the impacts it may have on your organisation and links to further information:

1. New rules apply to non-party campaigners for UK General Elections, European Elections and elections to devolved administrations. The first regulated period covered by the Act covers the run up to the 2015 general election, from 19th September 2014 to 7th May 2015.

2. Your organisation must register with the Electoral Commission if it is planning to spend over £20,000 in England or £10,000 in Northern Ireland/Scotland or Wales on regulated campaign activities during the regulated period.

3. Spending on campaign activity is only regulated where is passes both the ‘purpose test’ and the ‘public test’

4. The ‘purpose test’ is defined as if campaigning activity can be ‘reasonably regarded as intended to influence voters to vote for or against political parties or categories of candidates, including political parties or candidates who support or do not support particular policies or issues.’

5. If a campaign activity is aimed at, seen or heard by the public, or a section of the public it will meet the ‘public test.’

6. Despite being aimed at campaigning activity directed at the public, ‘public’ is not defined by the Bill. However some people are exempt from ‘public’

  • Individual communications with elected representatives (i.e. meetings and emails) are not covered by the Act
  • Materials sent by an organisation to their members or ‘committed supporters’ do not count as election material
  • Committed supporters act like members, they do not include people who ‘like’ or ‘follow’

7. Staff costs are included in expenditure limits but volunteer time and expenses are not included.

8. If your organisation is already campaigning on an issue which is subsequently adopted by a party or candidate this does not automatically bring your campaign under the scope of the rules as long as:

  • You do not publicise the support in subsequent campaigning
  • Do not alter your campaigning as a result of the endorsement

9. Should your organisation have to register there are rules around spending which must be followed:

  • Spending should be recording and reported
  • Including spending in individual constituencies
  • The permissibility of donations received above a certain amount for campaign activity should be checked with the Electoral Commission
  • There are pre and post polling reporting requirements
  • Spending returns must be submitted post-election

10. If you are working with other organisations as a coalition or under a joint plan spending by all organisations involved counts towards the expenditure limits

Further information

Charity Law

Campaigning, lobbying and political engagement are also covered by charity law. If your organisation is a charity it’s important to read this helpful guidance from the Charity Commission for NI to ensure you know what is and want is not allowed.

Useful links

  • NCVO have produced helpful FAQs on the Lobbying Act which are available here.
  • The guidance published by the Electoral Commission is available here.

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