Draft Code of Practice for non-party campaigners

What are the notification and reporting requirements?

Notification threshold

Non-party campaigners intending to spend more than £10,000 on regulated campaign activity in the period before a UKPGE or a Northern Ireland Assembly election must notify the Commission16

Eligible non-party campaigners

Only individuals or organisations described in s.88(2) PPERA are eligible to submit a notification to the Commission. 

Organisations are prohibited from registering as both a non-party campaigner and a political party17 .

Non-party campaigners are not permitted to spend more than £700 on regulated campaign activity unless they are:

  • eligible to give a notification to the Commission by virtue of s.88(2) PPERA, or 
  • an unincorporated association with the requisite UK connection18 .

A non-party campaigner that is permitted to spend more than £700 on regulated campaign activity may spend up to £10,000 across the UK without notifying the Commission19

Before spending more than £10,000 on regulated campaign activity across the UK, a non-party campaigner must submit a notification to the Commission20 .

Reporting thresholds 

Registered non-party campaigners who spend more than: 

  • £20,000 in England, or
  • £10,000 in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland

must record and report their spending and donations21 . These are known as the reporting thresholds. They are defined as the ‘lower tier spending limits’ in PPERA. 

At the time of notification, non-party campaigners may choose to notify the Commission that they do not intend to spend more than the reporting thresholds22

Registered non-party campaigners who include such a notification are not required to report their spending or donations as long as their spending does not exceed the reporting thresholds. They are still subject to the law on permissibility of donations. 

Once a non-party campaigner is registered, they may change their notification in relation to the reporting thresholds if their spending intentions change following registration. 

It is an offence to incur controlled expenditure in excess of the reporting thresholds if the non-party campaigner has notified the Commission that they would not spend more than those limits23

Maximum spending limit for non-party campaigners

There are spending limits that restrict the total amount a non-party campaigner can spend on regulated campaign activity during a regulated period. These spending limits vary depending on the particular election and are set out in Schedule 10 PPERA.

Reporting requirements 

All registered non-party campaigners must comply with the laws on spending and accepting donations. Only registered non-party campaigners who meet the reporting threshold must report their spending and donations. 

Spending up to £250,000

Registered non-party campaigners who meet the reporting threshold and who spend up to £250,000 must submit a spending return that details their spending on regulated campaign activity and any donations received during the regulated period24 . The spending return must be submitted to the Commission within three months of the end of the relevant regulated period. 

More than £250,000

Registered non-party campaigners who spend more than £250,000 on regulated campaign activity must submit a spending return that details their spending on regulated campaign activity and any donations received during the regulated period. In addition, the spending return must be accompanied by an auditors’ report25 . The spending return accompanied by an auditors’ report must be submitted to the Commission within six months of the end of the relevant regulated period. 

Reporting donations 

Registered non-party campaigners who are required to submit a spending return must include any donations received during the regulated period26 . See section on donations. 

UK parliamentary general elections

Where a UK parliamentary term enters its fourth year, registered non-party campaigners who meet the reporting threshold, must submit quarterly donation reports to the Commission27

The quarterly report must include details of all reportable donations. If a non-party campaigner has not received any reportable donations during the relevant reporting period, no quarterly report is required28

In the period between the dissolution of Parliament for a general election and polling day, registered non-party campaigners must also submit weekly donation reports to the Commission29 . The weekly donation report must include details of any relevant donations received with a value of more than £7,500 (a ‘substantial donation’)30

If a registered non-party campaigner does not receive any substantial donations during the relevant reporting period, no weekly report is required31

Weekly reports are not required by registered non-party campaigners who do not meet the reporting threshold. 

Statement of accounts

A registered non-party campaigner who meets the reporting threshold at a UKPGE, must prepare a statement of accounts for the regulated period unless: 

  • the non-party campaigner is an individual
  • the non-party campaigner has prepared a statement of accounts for another legal purpose that covers the regulated period32

What is targeted expenditure?

Regulated campaign spending by all registered non-party campaigners during the regulated period for a UKPGE that is aimed at promoting the electoral success of one particular registered political party or any of its candidates is called targeted spending35

Campaign activity that names a political party or its candidates in a way that can be regarded as intended to influence voters to vote for only that political party will count as targeted spending. 

A campaign on a particular issue that is so closely and publicly linked to one particular political party that it is synonymous with that party is likely to be considered targeted spending. 

A negative campaign aimed at influencing voters not to vote for a particular political party or any of its candidates is not targeted spending.   

Targeted spending will count towards the overall spending limit for a non-party campaigner and is subject to the general laws on regulated campaign activity. 

Donations to registered political parties

Donations to a registered political party do not fall within the definition of targeted spending.

Spending limits

All registered non-party campaigners are limited in how much targeted spending they can incur. The limits depend on whether or not the relevant political party has authorised the spending. 

Unauthorised spending

Non-party campaigners can incur targeted spending up to the targeted spending limits without authorisation from the relevant political party. The targeted spending limits are set out in s.94D PPERA.

All targeted spending counts towards the total spending limit for a non-party campaigner. 

Any spending in excess of the targeted spending limits must be authorised by the relevant registered political party. 

Authorised spending 

A registered political party may authorise a non-party campaigner to incur targeted spending. A non-party campaigner must not exceed the amount authorised. 

Authorisation by a registered political party:

  • must be in writing
  • must be signed by either the treasurer or the deputy treasurer of the party
  • must specify the parts of the UK in which the targeted spending may be incurred 
  • may set a limit on the amount of targeted spending authorised36

The registered political party must give a copy of the written authorisation to the Commission. The authorisation has no effect until a copy has been given to the Commission37

All targeted spending counts towards the total spending limit for a non-party campaigner. Any targeted spending in excess of the targeted spending limit up to the amount authorised by the relevant political party will also count towards the registered political party’s campaign expenditure38

Withdrawal of authorisation

Authorisation may be withdrawn by the registered political party at any time. The withdrawal: 

  • must be in writing 
  • must be signed by the treasurer or deputy treasurer of the party39

The withdrawal of authorisation has no effect until the registered political party has given a copy to the Commission40 .  

Effect of withdrawal of authorisation

A non-party campaigner must not incur any additional targeted spending above the targeted spending limit if the relevant political party withdraws its authorisation.  

When authorisation is withdrawn, no retrospective offence will have been committed by the non-party campaigner in relation to targeted spending incurred in accordance with the authorisation that was in effect at the time.

What is notional expenditure?

Non-party campaigners may sometimes use property, services or facilities in their campaign that they did not have to spend money on, because the item or the services were provided as a benefit in kind, for free, or at a non-commercial discount. 

This is called ‘notional spending’.

Discounts

Non-commercial discounts

Non-commercial discounts are special discounts given to the non-party campaigner. This includes any special rates which are not available on the open market. 

When this happens, the full commercial value of the item or the services will count towards the spending limit and must be reported in the spending return.

Commercial discounts

Commercial discounts are those available to other similar customers, such as discounts for bulk orders or seasonal reductions. These are not treated as notional spending. 

Notional spending

Items or services used by or on behalf of a non-party campaigner will be treated as notional spending if:

  • they are transferred or provided free of charge or at a discount of more than 10% for the use or benefit of the non-party campaigner
  • the difference in value between the commercial rate and what is paid by the non-party campaigner is over £200
  • they are made use of by or on behalf of the non-party campaigner and
  • if the expenses had been incurred by or on behalf of the non-party campaigner in respect of that use, they would have been controlled expenditure41 .

The items or services are only used on behalf of the non-party campaigner if that use is directed, authorised or encouraged by the non-party campaigner or the responsible person42 .

The value of the notional spending is the difference between the total value of what was transferred or provided and the amount that was paid, if anything. 

The non-party campaigner must record both: 

  • the value of the notional spending
  • the total amount that was paid.

Items or services will not be treated as notional spending if:

  • received at a discount of 10% or less or
  • the value of the discount is £200 or less

Value of notional spending

Where an item is treated as notional spending, an ‘appropriate amount’ must be reported by the non-party campaigner as controlled expenditure. 

The appropriate amount is the proportion that is reasonably attributable to the use of the item, of either: 

  • its market value (where it is transferred free of charge) or
  • the value of the discount 

The value of the notional spending is the difference in value between the commercial rate for an item or service and the price that was actually paid by the non-party campaigner.

Donations

The goods, services or facilities must be provided or transferred to the non-party campaigner to be treated as notional spending. 

This means that any notional spending will also be a donation to the non-party campaigner.

The difference in value between the commercial rate and the price paid, if any, must be dealt with in accordance with the laws on donations to non-party campaigners and may need to be reported to the Commission. 

Working with registered political parties

Non-party campaigners may also work with a registered political party, and provide goods, services or facilities free of charge or at a non-commercial discount. 

If the registered political party use the goods, services or facilities during their campaign, this should be treated as notional spending on behalf of the political party. 

It must be reported by the registered political party and will count towards the party’s spending limit.

It will not count towards the non-party campaigner’s spending limit and must not be recorded in the spending return for the non-party campaigner.

What is joint campaigning?

Working with other non-party campaigners

Non-party campaigners may decide to work together on a campaign. The rules on joint campaigning apply to registered and un-registered non-party campaigners. 

A non-party campaigner takes part in joint campaigning where they:

  • enter into a plan or other arrangement with one or more other non-party campaigners
  • all non-party campaigners involved intend to incur controlled expenditure in pursuance of that plan or arrangement 
  • one or more of the non-party campaigners involved incurs controlled expenditure in pursuance of the plan or arrangement and 
  • that plan or arrangement can reasonably be regarded as intending to achieve a common purpose.  

All of the spending on the joint campaign counts towards the spending limit of each of the non-party campaigners involved in the joint campaign. 

What is joint campaigning

There must be more than one non-party campaigner

Forming a new organisation that constitutes a group of other organisations and then spending money is not joint campaigning. 

An existing umbrella organisation that makes decisions about their campaign activity independently will not be joint campaigning unless they enter into a plan or arrangement with another non-party campaigner in which they both intend to incur controlled expenditure.  

There must be an agreed understanding that controlled expenditure will be incurred to achieve the common purpose

If there is no intention to incur expenditure there is no joint campaigning. 

For example, if it is agreed that all activity will be carried out by volunteers no spending will be incurred and there will be no joint campaigning.  

There must be an agreed understanding as to the scope and purpose of the campaign

Non-party campaigners who happen to campaign about similar or related issues are not joint campaigners. 

There must be an agreed understanding between the non-party campaigners that each of them will incur controlled expenditure to achieve the common purpose

All controlled expenditure incurred in pursuance of the plan or arrangement will fall within the joint campaigning rules.  

Joint campaigning is not simply

  • transferring or lending items to another campaigner or
  • providing money to another campaigner

This must be treated as notional spending or a donation and dealt with in accordance with the appropriate rules. 

Even if one of the non-party campaigners involved in the plan or arrangement does not incur their share of agreed expenditure, any expenditure incurred will still be joint campaigning and must be reported by all non-party campaigners involved.

Examples of joint campaigning 

  • Campaigner A and campaigner B agree to run a campaign encouraging voters to vote for candidates who support a particular issue. Both campaigner A and campaigner B intend to incur controlled expenditure as part of the campaign. Campaigner A and campaigner B both incur expenditure on the joint campaign. This is joint campaigning, and the spending should be treated as such. 
  • Campaigner A and campaigner B agree to run a campaign encouraging voters to vote for a particular political party. Both intend to incur controlled expenditure as part of the joint campaign. Campaigner A incurs expenditure on the joint campaign, but campaigner B never spends their intended share. This is joint campaigning, and the spending should be treated as such by both campaigner A and campaigner B.
  • Campaigner A and campaigner B agree to run a campaign encouraging voters to vote for a particular political party. Both intend to incur controlled expenditure as part of the joint campaign. Neither campaigner ends up incurring any controlled expenditure on the joint campaign. No joint campaigning has taken place.  

Activities that are joint campaigning

Non-party campaigners who engage in the following, non-exhaustive list of activities are likely to be joint campaigners: 

  • A joint advertising campaign, whether digital, electronic or via other means, involving joint leaflets or joint events. 
  • A co-ordinated campaign; for example where it is agreed which areas are to be covered, which issues raised or which voters targeted.
  • Joint working where one party can veto or must approve another party’s material. 

Activities that are not joint campaigning

Non-party campaigners who engage in the following, non-exhaustive list of activities are unlikely to be joint campaigners: 

  • Endorsing another campaign by allowing your logo/brand to be used without any financial commitment or further involvement. 
  • Adding your signature to a letter alongside other non-party campaigners without any financial commitment. 
  • Speaking freely at an event organised by another non-party campaigner without any financial commitment. 
  • Holding discussions about areas of common interest without coordinating campaign activity.

Annex B

Definitions and key terms

The following terms are used in this Code as they are defined in the legislation 

In this Code the following definitions apply:

Appropriate amount

Appropriate amount has the same meaning as in section 86 PPERA.

Campaign expenditure

Campaign expenditure has the same meaning as in section 72 PPERA.

Candidate

Candidate means a candidate at a relevant election under section 22 PPERA.

Controlled expenditure

Controlled expenditure has the same meaning as in section 85 PPERA.

Donation

Donation has the same meaning as in Schedule 11 PPERA.

Notional expenditure

Notional expenditure has the same meaning as in section 86 PPERA.

Political party

Political party means a party which is registered under Part II PPERA.

Regulated period

Regulated period means the ‘relevant period’ for an election as set out in Schedule 9A PPERA.

Costs

Costs has its ordinary meaning of the expense of, or associated with, an item. It includes the appropriate amount to be treated as incurred by the non-party campaigner under the laws on notional spending. 

Incur

Incur means make a legal commitment to spend money. 

Non-party campaigner

Non-party campaigner means an individual or organisation that campaigns around elections without standing candidates themselves. In the legislation, non-party campaigners are referred to as ‘third parties’.

Registered non-party campaigner

Registered non-party campaigner means a non-party campaigner that is on the register held by the Commission pursuant to a notification given to the Commission under section 88 PPERA.  Registered non-party campaigners are referred to as ‘recognised third parties’ in PPERA (see section 88 for the statutory definition). 

Reporting threshold

Reporting threshold means the ‘lower tier spending limits’ set out in sections 85(5B) and 94(5) PPERA as £20,000 in England and £10,000 for each of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Spending return

Spending return means a controlled expenditure return by a registered non-party campaigner as required under section 96 PPERA. 
 

Page history

First published:

Last updated: 14 December 2023