We set out to discover whether the Lobbying Act is affecting charity and voluntary organisations’ ability to campaign. The evidence found that it is.
Is the Act working in the public interest if the transparency we gain is outweighed by the loss of voices of experience from our political debate?
Our research found that the Lobbying Act has concretely affected charities and voluntary organisations in the following ways.
People’s voices go missing from the political debate: The administrative burden of the Act reduces the capacity of organisations to represent issues affecting their beneficiaries and enable supporters to engage in political debate.
Makes it harder for charities to pursue their mission: 51% say it has affected their ability to achieve their organisational mission or vision. Organisations working on politically sensitive or controversial issues, like welfare, disability, and immigration, see it as higher risk.
Reduces coalition activity: One third of survey respondents report a negative effect on coalition building, reflecting the findings of other reviews.
Reduces the ability of charities and voluntary organisations to support local democratic engagement: Larger organisations struggle to provide a sufficiently straightforward summary of the Act for local staff to plan with confidence. Smaller organisations and churches, who depend on collaboration to build their capacity, are fearful of coalition rules.
Affects their agility and responsiveness: As a result of the Act, 34% of respondents say they are less agile or responsive and 36% report slower decision-making.
Discourages a proportionate approach to risk management: Those who wish to avoid uncertainty, or the extra costs of registration, are forced to step a very long way back from any potentially challengeable activity. 42% say they have avoided activity where they were uncertain it comes within the scope of Act.
Alters the tone and assertiveness of campaigning: 35% say they have avoided issues seen as too politically ‘live’ and 36% say they have changed their language or tone. There is a widespread concern that this caution may have made communications less effective overall.
Diverts significant time and money away from core work and towards compliance: Whether or not organisations are registered with the Electoral Commission, compliance has a cost.
Stops some activity completely: Examples in our research mainly focus on public comment on politically sensitive issues, work in coalition with others and activity designed to help people participate in political debate.
A rational response to ambiguous legislation
Those who wish stay outside the Act, and thus save registration costs for other work, require a clear understanding of its parameters. Its ambiguity makes this nearly impossible to manage sensibly, so many organisations feel forced to step a very long way back from any activity that could be potentially challengeable. The result can be more cautious, less responsive campaigning. Those who lose out are the people directly affected by the issues, who may see slower progress or feel less able to make their voices and experiences heard in the democratic process.
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