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What we can do as a charity

While there are clear boundaries about what we can do as a charity, we are encouraging our members to engage with the election debates to promote the value of planning and help us advocate our position on important policy issues such as housing, strategic planning and devolution.

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In summmary: What the law says

The RTPI's objective as defined by its Charter is, "to advance the science and art of planning (including town and country and spatial planning) for the benefit of the public".

We operate under charitable law - there is law governing what charities are permitted to do in relation to elections.

Broadly, the principles are that a charity can seek to further its object(s) by campaigning so long as it does not influence or seek to influence the way that people vote or the outcome of the election.

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The RTPI does not and should not seek to influence how its members or the public vote. We work with politicians from all political parties to promote good planning and good planning policy in line with our objective and in accordance with the law.

For information about charities and elections see the Charity Commission (for England and Wales) and the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator and the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland.

In detail: What the law says

The RTPI operates under charitable law. There are strict rules governing what charities are permitted to do in relation to elections. Charities must not be established for political purposes and must never engage in party political activity. While there are clear boundaries about what we can do as a charity, we are encouraging our members to engage with the election debates to promote the value of planning and help us advocate our position on important policy issues such as resourcing, stability, housing, and strategic planning.

As a general principle, charities may undertake campaigning and political activity provided:

 • it is in furtherance of their charitable purposes

• it is permitted subject to the terms of their governing documents

• they never engage in any form of party political activity and

 • they retain their independence and political neutrality

1.3 Under charity law, charities must not support or oppose a political party or a candidate but they can engage in campaigning and political activity aimed at securing, or opposing, any change in the law or policy of central government, local authorities or other public bodies in support of their charitable purposes.

1.4 The RTPI's objective as defined by its Charter is "to advance the science and art of planning (including town and country and spatial planning) for the benefit of the public". Charities may undertake a wide variety of campaigning activities as part of their work. In many cases, these campaigns and activities will not be regulated under electoral law. Broadly, the principles are that a charity can during an election seek to further its objects by campaigning so long as it does not seek to influence the way that people vote.  

There is some good advice to follow generally from the Electoral Commission on the organising of election hustings.

If you need specific advice on any RTPI activities relating to the election please contact tino.hernandez@rtpi.org.uk

Advice from the Electoral Commission on hustings

It is important that this advice is adhered to even where we are not the lead partner or the main organiser of a hustings event.

The Electoral Commission advises the following:

What hustings are not regulated?

A non-selective hustings is a hustings that would not reasonably be regarded as intended to influence voters to vote for or against political parties or categories of candidates, including political parties or categories of candidates who support or oppose particular policies or issues. If you are holding a non-selective hustings, it will not be regulated by the non-party campaigning rules in the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act (PPERA) 2000.

[Note: RTPI should only be holding non-selective hustings].

In our view, a hustings will be non-selective if:

• the organiser of a local hustings has invited all the candidates known to be standing in the constituency

• the organiser of a national hustings has invited all the parties campaigning in the election

• you have impartial reasons for not inviting certain candidates or parties or

• the event will only be open to members of the organisation holding the event and it is not made available to the public

Electoral Commission

If you are holding a public hustings, and you want to ensure that it is a non-selective hustings, the simplest way is to invite all the relevant candidates in the area or all political parties campaigning in the election, and allow all those attending an equal opportunity to participate. However, this may not always be practical. For example, there may be so many candidates or parties standing that a meeting would be hard to manage. If you decide not to invite all candidates, there are some good practice recommendations you should follow to ensure your hustings is genuinely not promoting particular candidates or parties more than others.

Good practice recommendations

To show your hustings is non-selective you should:

• be able to give impartial reasons why you have not invited particular candidates or parties. You should be prepared to explain your reasons to candidates or parties you haven't invited

• make sure that candidates or parties you invite represent a reasonable variety of view, from different parts of the political spectrum

 • allow each candidate or party representative attending a fair chance to answer questions and, where appropriate, a reasonable opportunity to respond to points made against them by other candidates or party representative

• inform the audience at the meeting of candidates or parties standing who haven't been invited.

3,2 Impartial reasons may emerge from the following considerations:

• local prominence of some parties or candidates over others

• the number of elected representatives at the local or national level

• recent election results in the area • resources and other practicalities constraining numbers of invitees

• security concerns Impartial reasons do not include reasons such as your views on the policies of a candidate or party.

Election material

Charities sometimes produce material that sets out or compares the position of parties or types of candidates that support or oppose the aims or a policy that they are promoting, where these views relate to their charity's purposes. Where a charity produces election material it must make sure that promotion of its aims is not confused with promotion of a political party or candidate. This is because a charity must not deliberately encourage support for any particular party or candidate.

 Spending on election material that is distributed to the public may be regulated by the Electoral Commission if it:

 • identifies political parties or candidates who support or do not support your campaign's aims

• sets out or compares the position of political parties or candidates on a policy you are promoting in a way that can reasonably be regarded as intended to influence voters to vote for or against particular parties or candidates

• promotes or opposes policies which are so closely and publicly associated with a party or parties or with categories of candidate that it is reasonable to regard your campaign activity as intended to influence voters to vote for or against political parties or candidates

Engaging with parties and politicians

Charities may engage with political parties and politicians in ways that supports their charitable purposes. In doing so, they must remain politically neutral and should consider working with other parties to help ensure public perceptions of neutrality. Electoral rules do not generally cover lobbying or influencing MPs, governments or Parliamentary lobbying unless you involve the public in that activity and your campaign can be seen as intended to influence voter choice during a regulated period.

For further information

Contact tino.hernandez@rtpi.org.uk 0207 929 9486 

Key documents

UK Parliamentary general election 2015: hustings

http://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0010/169480/sp-hustings-npc-ukpge.pdf

Electoral Commission: Charities and Campaigning http://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0010/165961/intro-campaigning-charities-npc.pdf

When we talk about charity law we mean:

The Charities Act 2011 The Charities Act (Northern Ireland) 2008 The Charities and Trustee Investment (Scotland) Act 2005 

When we talk about electoral law, we mean:

The Political Parties, Elections and Referendum Act 2000 ("PPERA").

The Transparency of Lobbying, Non Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act 2014 changed the rules on campaigning that are in PPERA. These new rules come into effect on 19th September 2014