Registering to Lobby? Information for the Voluntary, Community, and Social Enterprise Sector in Northern Ireland

17 May 2021 Déarbhla Sloan    Last updated: 17 May 2021

Lobbying and campaigning is carried out by many within the VCSE Sector, as a way of informing and influencing public policies and legislation, so as to advance their charitable aims and benefit society.

Lobbying campaigns may have a shorter time-frame with one main ask, while others are a culmination of asks and can take longer to push through. Employers for Childcare recently lobbied to Save the Childcare Voucher Scheme, while the Northern Ireland Women’s Policy Group has been campaigning on several key asks through their work on the Feminist Recovery Plan.

There are a number of specific legal requirements which VCSE organisations should be aware of when lobbying.  These are outlined below.

Lobbying in Northern Ireland / the UK

The Transparency of Lobbying, non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act 2014 (also known as the Lobbying Act) 2014 sets out regulations for those undertaking campaigns during the regulated period i.e. one year before election polling day. The regulations are relevant to charities, NGOs and campaigning groups and sets a limit on expenditure on any public campaign that could be seen as aiming to influence the outcome of the election. The Act has already been applied during several previous elections, including General Elections and the elections to the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly and Northern Ireland Assembly.

Campaigners that plan to spend more than £20,000 in England – £10,000 in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland – must register with the Electoral Commission, comply with spending limits and report their spending to the commission after the poll.

One of the primary principles of charity law in terms of campaigning, political activity and elections is that charities should be independent of party politics, therefore many will not need to register with the Electoral Commission as long as they are complying with Charity Law.

To help you understand if your organisation needs to register, we recommend you visit the Electoral Commission website for further details on non-party campaigning, information on the purpose test and, if require, how to register.

Lobbying in Ireland

Some charities working within Northern Ireland also work on an All-Island basis therefore it is important to be aware of the different regulations governing this jurisdiction also.

In Ireland, there is a Register of Lobbying which was set up by lobbying regulation legislation. The Regulation of Lobbying Act 2015 (the Act) and associated register is designed to provide information to the public about:

  • Who is lobbying
  • On whose behalf lobbying is being carried out
  • The issues involved in the lobbying
  • The intended result of the lobbying
  • Who is being lobbied

If you are lobbying then you must register on www.lobbying.ie and make a return every four months. This register is maintained by the Standards in Public Office Commission / Standards Commission. If you are unsure if your work falls within the remit of lobbying you can take the three step test to understand better.

Under the Regulation of Lobbying Act 2015, persons who fall within the scope of the Act are:

  • A person with more than 10 employees;
  • A representative or advocacy body with 1 or more employees;
  • A professional lobbyist paid to communicate on behalf of a client that falls within the previous categories; or
  • Anyone communicating about the development or zoning of land.

A volunteer organisation with no paid staff would generally not fit within the Act, unless they are communicating about development or zoning.

To establish if your organisation has to register, we recommend you visit the registration website where you will find a range of resources including Frequently Asked Questions | Lobbying.ie and Information for Lobbyists | Lobbying.ie.

 

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