The independent nature of the charitable sector is of fundamental importance to society and is greatly valued by the public. The guiding principle of charity law in terms of campaigning, political activity and elections is that charities should be, and be seen to be, independent of party politics.
Charities in Northern Ireland have strong links to their local communities and beneficiaries. They play a valuable role in informing elected representatives while representing their diverse causes.
The Commission’s Charities and politics guidance provides information and advice for charities in Northern Ireland on political purposes, political activity and campaigning. It aims to support charities in ensuring they retain the essential quality of independence if they become involved in political activity, meet the requirements of charity law and use their voice effectively at election times.
Political purposes and activities
There is an important distinction between political purposes and political activities. The purposes of a charity are what it is established to achieve. The activities are how it will go about achieving those purposes.
A charity cannot be established for a political purpose, but a charity may engage in political activity or campaigning to achieve its purposes.
The guidance sets out the requirements which charities must meet if they are to ensure that their political activity or campaigning is permitted under charity law. It is intended to support charities in undertaking this activity effectively while remaining independent and not aligning with a particular political party.
Section five of the guidance also provides an overview on political activities and campaigning by charities in the run up to an election. However, while it provides helpful advice and information, the guidance does not provide a full description of electoral law as it applies to charities in the period in the run up to an election.
For further information on this, you may be interested in the Electoral Commission guidance, Charities and Campaigning (external link).