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Charities must abide by the law when campaigning in the run up to the EU referendum, says regulator

Charities must abide by the law when undertaking political activity in the run up to the EU referendum – or they could be putting their reputation at risk, according to the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland.

And, to support charities’ understanding of the law, the Commission has published new guidance, available below, on campaigning around the referendum.

CCNI EG056 Guidance for charities on campaigning in the run up to the European Referendum

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Chief Charity Commissioner Tom McGrath, explained: “With the referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU taking place on 23 June 2016, some charities may be considering how they can use the opportunity to campaign and advocate on behalf of their beneficiaries.

“While campaigning can be a legitimate way for a charity to work to achieve its charitable purposes, it’s important to be aware of the restrictions around what a charity can and cannot do.

“Our new guidance is a useful, practical guide aimed at helping charity trustees to understand these restrictions and to make the right decisions for their charity.

“A charity’s reputation is one of their key assets – my advice to trustees is to ensure you are not putting that reputation at risk by acting without an awareness of the law.”

A charity may engage with the referendum process in a range of ways, from assessing the possible impact and monitoring the result, to actively taking part through campaigning for a particular outcome. 

However, according to charity law, a charity can only carry out political activity or campaigning, provided:

  • the activity is solely in support of its charitable purposes
  • the activity is not prohibited in its governing document
  • it remains independent and does not align itself with a particular political party or politician
  • it is in the charity’s best interests and the trustees are acting with due care.

A charity must not engage in activity that is not in support of its charitable purposes or is prohibited by its governing document, nor should a charity align itself with a particular political party or politician.

As well as the EU referendum on 23 June 2016, charities must also take special care to ensure that they are independent in the run up to the Northern Ireland Assembly elections. 

A charity that engages in political activity in the run up to an election or a referendum may be required to register with the Electoral Commission.

For further information on this area, charities may wish to refer to the Commission’s Charities and politics guidance, which is available here.

ENDS

For more information please contact Shirley Kernan, Commission for Communications Officer, on telephone: 028 3832 0169, mobile: 07827338978 or email: shirley.kernan@charitycommissionni.org.uk

Notes to editors

The Charity Commission for Northern Ireland is the independent regulator of charities in Northern Ireland, established under the Charities Act (Northern Ireland) 2008.

A non-departmental public body, the Commission is sponsored by the Department for Social Development and has a number of legal functions where it uses powers similar to those of the High Court.