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Charities reminded never to stray into party politics ahead of election

Charities have been reminded they must never promote, or be seen to promote, a political party or candidate (PA)
Charities have been reminded they must never promote, or be seen to promote, a political party or candidate (PA)

Charities can use passionate, emotive and direct messaging to criticise political policies but must never stray into party politics, a watchdog has warned ahead of a general election.

Charity Commission chairman Orlando Fraser said organisations must be careful to protect their charity’s reputation and “not allow your organisation to be used as a vehicle for the expression of the party-political views of any individual”.

His blog post reminder to charities comes a few months after he pledged that the regulator will not be “misused or weaponised” in culture wars.

In his post on Monday, on the subject of campaigning and political activity ahead of an election, he re-stated that commitment.

He wrote: “I will not allow the Commission to be misused or weaponised by any particular side of the public debate, whether it be by politicians, the media, or indeed the sector itself.”

CHARITY Election
(PA Graphics)

Mr Fraser said complaints to the regulator are “one certainty in an otherwise uncertain period of heightened political volatility”.

He said charity campaigning “plays an important role in society and the law is clear about the right of charities to campaign in support of their purposes”, but warned that to maintain public confidence in their political campaigning and trust generally, charities must “campaign in a way that is consistent with the legal framework”.

He said charities “must never stray into party politics – they must never promote, or be seen to promote, a political party or candidate”.

He added: “As trustees and charity leaders you must protect your charity’s reputation and not allow your organisation to be used as a vehicle for the expression of the party-political views of any individual trustee, employee, political party, or candidate.”

Noting how divided society has become, he said the commission has an expectation that charities will “engage in public discourse in a way that promotes respect, tolerance and consideration for others, and in a tone that reflects your trusted standing as a charity – avoiding inflammatory rhetoric”.

He added: “This does not mean avoiding criticism of political parties’ policies, and it does not mean that you have to avoid passionate, emotive or direct messaging – but you should remain focused on the issues relevant to your charity and avoid character attacks.”

Last year the commission published new guidance for organisations on how to use social media effectively, just a few weeks after the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) issued an apology over a social media post accusing the Government of lying about environmental commitments.

The conservation charity lashed out on X, formerly known as Twitter, at plans to scrap water pollution restrictions for housing developments in England.

RSPB chief executive Beccy Speight said she did not approve the post and it did not go through “normal protocols”, as she declared the charity was “not entering politics”.

A commission investigation – a regulatory compliance case rather than a more formal statutory inquiry – into the “serious mistake” is ongoing.