Political Campaigning And Social Media Activity: The Commission's Decision On Humanity Torbay And Elections Bill 2021 In The UK

Published date25 April 2022
Subject Matterorporate/Commercial Law, Charities & Non-Profits
Law FirmWithers LLP
AuthorMs Hannah Brearley

Commission inquiry into Humanity Torbay

On 25 March, the Charity Commission released its inquiry decision relating to Humanity Torbay, a charitable incorporated organisation ('CIO') that managed a community drop-in centre providing information and advice on health, wellbeing, housing, employment, and referrals to local food banks.

The investigation centred around the political nature of some of the organisation's media content (in particular, Facebook posts made by the CIO's founder and CEO) which criticised the current UK government.

The Commission has guidance about political campaigning and activity, and advises that trustees should ensure that when senior staff speak publicly on behalf of the charity that those statements further the charity's objects (and that when senior staff publicly express their own personal political views, it should be very clear that those views were not the views of the charity).

There were additional concerns regarding the management of the CIO's resources and whether the trustees had general complied with their duties and responsibilities.

The Commission issued the trustees with an action plan, requiring the removal of the inappropriate social media posts and asking the trustees to review their social media policies and procedures. This was not undertaken: in fact, the founder continued to post political messages on the Facebook page. As the founder controlled the Facebook page, it was difficult for the other trustees to remove her posts.

Although the founder ultimately opted to leave the CIO, the potential reputational damage arising from the political posts combined with a decrease in funding and skilled personnel resulted in the trustees deciding to wind up the charity.

The founder admitted that she controlled the Facebook page and that she made the political posts. She accepted the terms of a four-year voluntary undertaking prohibiting her from acting as a charity trustee or holding any office or employment with senior management functions for any charity in England or Wales.

Regardless, the Commission considered the trustees' failure to control and prevent inappropriate material being posted on its social media pages in the name of the charity to be evidence of misconduct and/or mismanagement in the charity's administration by the trustees.

Elections Bill 2021 and impact on charities

This decision is also pertinent against the backdrop of the Elections Bill 2021, currently at the report stage in the House of Lords. As...

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