This is an update on the Lobbying Act (Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act 2014) and with initial advice to students’ unions on whether you should register your union as a non-party campaigner.
The regulated period for non-party campaigning ahead of the 2015 General Election starts today (Friday 19 September 2014) and ends on polling day, 7 May 2015.
NUS played a leading role in the Commission on Civil Society and Democratic Engagement, comprising more than 150 voluntary organisations and charities, and which raised concerns about the chilling effect of proposed new restrictions on non-party campaigning and secured important concessions to the bill. Visit the Commission's website to see more detailed information.
Following the eventual passing of the Act in February 2014, the Electoral Commission published its guidance for non-party campaigners in July 2014. Legal firm Bates Wells Braithwaite (BWB) challenged the initial guidance, and on 29 August 2014, it was revised and reissued.
The Electoral Commission guidance as it currently stands is now available.
NUS has commissioned Bates Wells Braithwaite (BWB) to give us bespoke advice about students’ unions in relation to the Lobbying Act and a further briefing will be circulated soon on the basis of this advice.
In short, however, the initial advice we have received from BWB is that under the Charities Act 2006, students’ unions should not be doing anything that could involve:
activity that could be reasonably seen to advantage or disadvantage a political party or candidate.
working in a coalition which will be undertaking activities which could be reasonably seen to advantage or disadvantage a political party or candidate.
You can these restrictions covered in more detail here.
Because these are the kinds of activities that are regulated by the Lobbying Act, it follows that there should be no need for any students’ unions to register with the Electoral Commission. For the time being, our advice to members is therefore that you should not register. You can also be assured that if that advice changes as a result of BWB’s full advice to us, registration is possible on a retrospective basis.
As a matter of good practice, you should begin keeping records of any expenditure incurred for activity that takes place between today and 7 May 2015 that could reasonably be regarded as campaigning expenditure, including an estimate of the costs of officer/staff time. It is very unlikely that this will be required to be reported, and you should not go to onerous lengths to collect these records, but it is a sensible precaution to have this kind of assessment of your campaigning activity in a general election year.
You should note that as the year develops, additional restrictions may come into effect under the Representation of the Peoples Acts (especially following the dissolution of Parliament next March), and we will issue further advice covering that in due course.
If for any reason you believe this general advice may not apply and there is some specific reason that you should register as a non-party campaigner we would encourage you to speak to us in the first instance about your circumstances and considerations via Alex Jones (Head of Campaigns, Advocacy and Political Affairs) at firstname.lastname@example.org.