PRCA issues stark warning over impact of Lobbying Act
Charity and Not-For-Profit group responds to Hodgson Review and Harries Commission... Core concerns remain around cost; the silencing of smaller charities; lack of clear guidance; and the potential for future weakening of charities’ rights to campaign
The Public Relations Consultants Association (PRCA) has submitted a formal response to the government’s Hodgson Review of Third Party Campaigning, criticising the Lobbying Act’s impact on campaigners prior to the General Election.
It highlights major concerns with the implementation of the Act which has “severely limited” charities’ campaigning activities and sets out recommendations to address the inadequacies of the Act and the guidance provided by the Electoral Commission.
The PRCA response expresses core concerns around cost of compliance, the silencing of smaller charities, lack of clear guidance and the potential for future weakening of charities’ rights to campaign.
The document was developed to expand on the points made to the Hodgson Review via its formal survey process and believes that the cost of compliance with the Lobbying Act for charities could in some cases “outweigh that of campaigning”.
It states, “some organisations report bills for lawyers and accountants running into the tens of thousands. Given that for some organisations campaigning is vital in meeting their charitable objectives, this has amounted to a punitive extra tax on campaigners,” states the submission.
The PRCA has recommended this could be alleviated if the regulated period for each election was reduced to three or four months, and the level of reporting be generalised rather than requiring specifics.
The submission outlines how volunteers feel threatened by the Act, adding that this “had the effect of, essentially, silencing volunteers and smaller charities”. The PRCA recommends that more should be done to explain to smaller charities that they are unlikely to be covered – and an increase in spending limits would assist in this.
The submission states that Electoral Commission guidance is “often confused and unclear”, and “needs a fundamental overhaul if it is to be fit for purpose”. The PRCA also calls for “increased funding […] to promote the guidance and a communications campaign to make volunteers aware they are not regulated (and indeed, this last point should be clarified more explicitly)”.
The PRCA has recommended that the Electoral Commission needs to invest in staff with experience of campaigning and running charities; and that The Charity Commission and the Electoral Commission also need to work more closely to ensure each organisation’s guidance does not contradict the others.
The PRCA has also called for pro-bono support to be exempt from the Act, because it “prevents our agency members from supporting causes they would ordinarily have offered free advice and time to”.
Finally, the PRCA expressed concern that the Lobbying Act is the “thin end of the wedge”, adding “we would reject any further attempts to weaken the ability of charities to campaign.”
The PRCA called on the Government to reassure charities that the aim of the Act and Government policy is not to stifle their freedom of speech.
“This Act may now be with us to stay, but all campaigners need to have their say to ensure the worst silencing effects of the regulations are alleviated and charities have clearer, straight-forward guidance to work from.
“The PRCA Charity and Not-For-Profit group welcomes the opportunity to contribute to these formal reviews with suggestions for practical improvements to the regulations. We also hope that these suggestions will lead the Electoral Commission and Charity Commission to engage more with our members going forward.”
The concerns were discussed at a PRCA event entitled ‘What Next for Charities after the General Election?’, which took place on 16th June in London.
To read the full submission, click here.
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