More than 50 charities, including Age UK, Amnesty and Christian Aid, have signed an open letter to all main party leaders urging them to overhaul the Lobbying Act following this month’s election.

The controversial 2014 act, dubbed the ‘charity gagging law’, sets rules to ensure individuals or organisations cannot have an undue influence over the vote if they are not standing as a political party or candidate. Fines can incur for those who do not comply, with Greenpeace being fined £30,000 for refusing to register as a ‘third party campaigning organisation’ in the run up to the 2015 election.

‘The Lobbying Act has had a significant chilling effect on legitimate charity sector campaigning in the pre-election period,’ the open letter reads. ‘Voices are being lost at this crucial time, and our democracy is the poorer for it.

‘Those charities that continue to campaign to further their charitable objects are subject to an enormous and unreasonable administrative and financial burden.’

Although initially intended to stop corporate lobbying and prevent wealthy pressure groups from influencing elections, the act’s regulations are said to have hit smaller charities the hardest.

‘The Lobbying Act is stifling debate and silencing charities on crucial issues that affect some of the most vulnerable people in our society,’ said Stephen Hale, chief executive of Refugee Action in an article on The Independent website.

‘Limiting charities’ engagement in political debate is detrimental to a healthy democracy. We’re urging the next government to commit to reforming the act.’

 

Words: Ellen White