Campaigning Guides: What's the law around leafleting?

Anyone who holds street stalls and leaflets will know that it is only a matter of time before some officious type from the council tries to stop you. So here’s a short run through of what you are allowed to do and what you can’t – so you’ve got an answer next time.

  • Avoid private property
  • You do not need to ask permission
  • Don’t block the path

Avoid private property. If you want to leaflet on private property then you have to get permission from the landowners and if you don’t then you will almost certainly be told to go away. What this means in practice is that it is best to avoid covered shopping centres as these are usually privately owned – high streets, public squares, at the entrance to busy transport hubs are all great places to start.

You do not need to ask permission. Under the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005 the “free distribution of printed material on designated land” is also regulated. In short, you are not free to hand out whatever you like on your local high street without getting permission. However, if you are leafleting for a political group (like us) or a religious or charitable organisation then you are exempt from these laws.

This exemption is where the confusion comes from. Council officials often believe that any leafleting on public land has to be licensed by them – and probably pay them a fee too. However all political leafleting is exempt from this. All you need to say is that political leafleting is exempted from their regulation and that you are free to hand out fliers. This usually does the trick. If not, then argue your case calmly. If nothing you say is working, then it may be best to pack up rather than get into a heated row. But don’t let that be the end of the matter. Tweet, blog, lodge a complaint with the council, and tell us!

What else do you have to be careful of? Don’t block the footpath or get in the way of people as they walk. If you are causing an obstruction then you may be asked to move along. If you are bringing a stall or any props, it is best to pitch up on a broad street or an open square. Aside from the law, if you are in people’s way you will annoy them and they are less likely to want to hear what you have to say.

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