Non-party campaigners: UK Parliamentary general elections

The purpose test and the retrospective regulated period

The retrospective nature of the regulated period may concern campaigners due to uncertainty about whether the laws apply. However, most campaign activity undertaken before an election is announced is unlikely to meet the purpose test.

Although the regulated period is retrospective, the purpose test itself is not. This means that your campaign will only be regulated if it met the purpose test at the time it was carried out – and this is much less likely when there is no election.

First, many campaigns are purely issues-based rather than focusing on candidates or parties. Policies and issues may not be sufficiently closely and publicly associated with a party, parties or category of candidates for the campaign activity to meet the purpose test. This is especially true when the campaigns were intended to take place outside of an election period, since then they are less likely to have a call to action to voters, or even to mention parties or candidates.

Second, you are unlikely to be reasonably regarded as intending to influence people to vote in an election when you do not know or expect that the election is happening. Therefore, where this was the case, your activity is unlikely to have met the purpose test.

So for example, when there is no election and where they do not mention candidates, parties or elections:

  • campaigns on issues such as the cost of living or the NHS
  • campaigns advocating a Yes vote to industrial action

are unlikely to meet the purpose test, even if they are critical of the government. 

The likely exceptions to this are if either:

  • you ran campaigns which met the purpose test in a different election in the regulated period – for example, you campaigned in local elections earlier in the regulated period
  • you anticipated or made reference to the future election before it was announced – for example “Vote Conservative in the coming election”, or “Unseat MPs who voted for austerity”

If you spend money on campaigning like this at any time, then you will need to keep a record of what you have spent. This is so that if a UK Parliamentary general election is called, you will know how much regulated spending you have incurred in the regulated period.

Last updated: 24 November 2023