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Trade union political objects


A Trade Union is a membership-based organisation made up of workers, which may carry out electoral or other party political activities known as political objects.  One of its main objectives must include the regulation of relations between workers and employers or employers’ associations. An employers’ association is a body of employers, generally from the same sector of the economy, whose principal purposes include the regulation of relations between employers in that sector and workers or trade unions. Trade unions have duties and obligations under the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 (TURLCA 1992) and case law.


What are trade union political objects?

Political objects are electoral or other party political activities. Trade unions are allowed to include the furtherance of political objects among their objects [s71 Trade Union and Labour Relations(Consolidation) Act 1992 (TULRCA 1992)] .

A trade union must ensure that its funds are not applied for any one of the political objects until there has been an appropriate political resolution, and a political fund has been established in line with the union’s rules.

the political objects that unions are allowed to adopt are;

  • Contributing to the funds or expenses of a political party
  • Providing any service or property for use by any political party
  • Spending money in connection with the registration of electors, the candidature of any person, the selection of any candidate, or the holding of a ballot by the union in connection with any political office
  • Spending money on the maintenance of any holder of a political office
  • Spending money on organising any conference or meeting by a political party, or any similar meeting
  • Spending money on the production, publication or distribution of any literature, document, film etc., for the purpose of influencing people either to vote for, or against, a particular political party or candidate [section 72 TULRCA 1992]

Opting in by union members to contribute to political funds

Rules about trade union political funds are contained in s82 TULRCA. Union members cannot contribute to a political fund unless they have opted in [s84 TULRCA 1992]. This requirement applies to everyone who joined a union after commencement of the Trade Union Act 2016. Where a union sets up a new political fund after commencement of the Trade Union Act 2016 all members of that union must give their express consent to opt in, in order to make contributions to the political fund.

After opting in, a member may give notice at any time, to cancel their contribution. That notice must take effect at the end of the period of one month of it being given. Notices to contribute or to cease contributing to the political fund may be given in person, by agent or by post. They can also be given by e-mail or by using an electronic form provided by the union. The e-mail and the electronic form are to be sent to an address that the union has told members that they can use.

Trade unions must send information to all new members who join after the transition period about their right to withdraw their opt in decision [ s84A TULRCA 1992]. This information must be sent every year, not later than eight weeks after the annual return is sent to the Certification Officer. Unions can send individual copies of the information to members or they can choose to publish it by whatever means the union uses to communicate with its members. The union may also provide the information as part of the section 32A statement which is provided every year, eight weeks after the annual report is sent.

A union is required to either collect a separate amount for the political fund from members, or provide a rebate for those members who are not contributing [s85 TULRCA 1992]. Any  form (including an electronic form) that a person has to complete to join the union must contain advise that they can opt to contribute to a political fund and that if they decide not to contribute, they will not suffer any disadvantage [s82 TULRCA 1992].

Rules about opting in to the political fund are contained in s11 TULRCA 1992. Those members who joined a trade union before commencement of section 11 will continue to be subject to the automatic opt in provisions of the 1992 Act. This means that they will be taken to have opted in unless they specifically opt out.


Annual returns 

Section 32ZB TULRCA 1992 requires trade unions to provide information about their political expenditure in their annual return which is sent to the Certification Officer.  This information must be provided where a union spends more than £2,000 per annum from its political fund.

A union is required to provide particular information in relation to each category of spending as set out in section 72(1) (a) to (f) TULRCA 1992. In addition, unions are required to provide information for expenditure from the political fund, not falling within section 72(1). The information should provide the total amount paid to each party, organisation or candidate within each category.

The required information for each category is different depending on the category. So for section 72(1) (a), (b) or (c), which covers the provision of funds or the provision of a service or property to a political party or the holding of a conference or a meeting which is connected to a political party, the information to be given is the name of each political party to which money is paid and the total amount for the year. Therefore if, in one year, a union pays for its members to attend a Labour Party conference and then also pays for members to attend a different Labour Party meeting, then the union should provide the total expenditure on all conferences and meetings and say that the monies were paid to the Labour Party. If, in the same year, a union also pays for members to attend conferences or meeting for another political party, then the union must provide the name of that political party and the total annual spend on conferences and meetings for that party.

Expenditure under section 72(1) (c) TULRCA 1992 relates to spending on elections to a political office and in particular on the registration of electors, the candidature of a person or the holding of any ballot. The information unions should provide here is the information about the election concerned and the name of each political party or organisation to which money is paid. So, for example, for the registration of voters, payment may be made to an organisation which campaigns to increase electoral registration. In those circumstances the unions must provide the name of the organisation and the total amount per annum paid to that organisation. If money is given directly to a candidates’ office, then the name of the candidate should be provided.

Where money is spent in general on candidates of a particular party, for example in a General Election, there will be no need to provide the names of all the candidates, but rather just the name of the political party or organisation, and again the total amount spent on each political party or organisation [s72(1)(c) TULRCA 1992]. That information may have already been provided in which case, it need not be provided again. The union must provide the total amount of any other expenditure under this category not already covered.

The category of spending in section 72(1) (d) relates to spending on the maintenance of a political office. For this category, unions should provide details of the names of the holders of the office and the total amount spent on each per annum.

For spending under section 72(1)(f) – the production and distribution of materials etc. which seek to persuade people to vote or not to vote for a political party or candidate, unions must provide the details of the organisation which may have received monies for these purposes and the total amount paid to each one. Where money is not paid to an organisation, but monies are spend to persuade people to vote or not to vote for a particular candidate or party, then unions should give the details of each party or candidate being supported or not being supported as the case may be, and again, the total spend on each per annum. If that information has already been provided under section 32ZB (6) (a) then it does not need to be provided again.

Finally unions should also provide details of any other expenditure from the political fund which falls outside the categories in section 72(1). The union must provide information about the nature of each cause or campaign which is being funded and the total amount paid to each one per annum. The union must also provide details of any organisation to which monies were paid (if not already covered by details of the cause or campaign), and the total amount paid to each one. The total of any other expenditure not already covered must be provided. Therefore, if a union provides money to a charitable organisation, that donation would be covered under this category.

The amount of £2,000 can be increased to a higher threshold by regulations to be made by the Secretary of State and these will be subject to the negative resolution procedure. However, having raised the threshold above £2,000, if the decision is taken to lower it again to a figure not less than £2,000, (making the threshold more onerous for trade unions) then the Secretary of State must make regulations which will be subject to the affirmative procedure.

Where the Certification Officer has directed that the annual reporting period is changed in accordance with section 32(4)(a) of the 1992 Act, then references to “calendar year” in this clause are changed to refer to that amended period. For example, if that reporting period is for 9 months, the amount is three-quarters of £2000 (i.e. £1500).

The clause amends section 131 of the 1992 Act so that these requirements also apply to employers’ associations. Section 135 is amended to provide that the new provisions do not apply to federated employers’ associations (who are not required to submit annual returns under the 1992 Act).

The provisions apply to annual returns for periods that begin after the commencement date.

Source: Trade Union Act 2016 Explanatory Notes

Updated: 01/03/2020


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GOV.UK: Trade Union Political Funds: A guide for trade unions, their members and others

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