It can be difficult to find electoral advice online. In my previous role I answered many questions like these, and so I offer these answers as a sensible point of view. However, I must point out that I am not a lawyer, that this is not legal advice, and that this page should be your starting point rather than your only source of information.
My organisation also hires out rooms. Should I hire to a political party or candidate during the election period?
Many churches or charities have local halls, which may suddenly be in demand over the election period. If you’re the vicar at the local parish church, and you get a request from one of the political parties to hire your church hall for their campaigning planning meetings, what should you do?
Before considering this, double check that the request is for a political party meeting or activity, and not a hustings. Hustings have specific rules, which I’ll go into elsewhere. Let’s assume that it’s definitely for a party or an individual candidate.
The answer depends on two main factors.
Firstly, if you decide to hire to a political party or individual candidate, you should not give them any special rate. It should be purely a business transaction. If you have been deemed to have hired your space for less than you would normally have done so, then that would count as campaign contribution. A charity is not permitted to give a political party or candidate a contribution of more than around £50. So, if you are a charity and you gave a room for free which usually cost £100 to hire, then you’d be in breach of electoral and charity regulations.
Secondly, if you decide to hire to a political party or individual candidate, you must also be prepared to hire under the same conditions to any other political party. You would probably be able to make an exception if you could point to criminal convictions on the part of the party or the candidate – the point being, that unless you have a good and completely non-political reason, you must be prepared to hire the same space to others. No favourable treatment of a particular strand of politics.
Many organisations decide not to hire their space to political parties or candidates during the Purdah period directly before an election.
We’re hosting an event before election day. It’s nothing to do with the election at all, but one of the speakers just happens to be an election candidate. Is this a problem?
Perhaps there’s an annual lecture given by a local expert, and this year it just so happens that the person due to give the lecture is running for Parliament? Yes, I’m afraid this is a problem.
It doesn’t matter if the event was organised before the election was called, and before the person speaking knew they would be a candidate. Once the person becomes a parliamentary candidate then public events with them are almost always seen as being election events.
The event would now be considered to be a “selective hustings”. Essentially, that is an election event where one candidate is permitted to speak, but other candidates are not. It would count as a campaign contribution. The hire of the building and any staff or refreshments would also count as campaign contributions.
If you are a charity, then you almost certainly have no option but to postpone the event until after the election or to find a different speaker. Charities are not permitted to give a political party or candidate a contribution of more than around £50. If you are a charity and you went ahead with an event featuring just one candidate during an election period, then you’d be in breach of electoral and charity regulations.
If you are not a charity, then you would have the option of running the event. However, you would probably be obliged to tell the candidate’s party what the event cost so that it could be publicly recorded as a campaign contribution. You may need to put out messages explaining why you’d decided to go ahead.
If you did find yourself in this situation, the candidate would probably wish to cancel the event anyway, in order to spend more time campaigning.