FAQs

Welcome to our FAQs where you’ll find answers to some of the most common questions we’re asked by the general public. These questions cover a broad range of topics relating to our organisation and the kind of help we can offer if you get into trouble for exercising your right to lawful free speech, whether at a college or university or in the workplace. If you can’t find the answer you’re looking for, click on the ‘Get in Touch’ button below, fill out the contact form and one of our case officers will be in touch.

Frequently Asked Questions

General Help

Can you help me if I’m not resident in the UK?

Freedom of speech laws vary from country to country so we cannot offer legal help if you’re outside the UK. However, we can offer more limited support for non-UK residents who are able to join as discount members at a reduced rate. We can also refer you to affiliated organisations in other countries.

Do I need to be an FSU member to receive help?

Yes. To become a member, click here

Can the FSU provide urgent assistance?

The short answer is yes. If you are up against an imminent deadline, such as having to attend an investigation or disciplinary meeting, we can usually help you postpone it until we have had a chance to discuss your case with you and offer detailed advice.

I’m not sure if my problem is something the FSU can help with

We only help people if their problem is free speech related, e.g. you’ve got into trouble for something you’ve said or written (or refused to say or write). If you’re not sure whether your problem falls within our wheelhouse, please fill out the ‘Get in Touch’ form, setting out the details, and a case officer will contact you.

My employer is insisting I comply with the company’s social media policy, including outside the workplace. Can I refuse?

We have written a comprehensive guide for people who want to know whether they have to comply with their company’s social media policy, including outside they workplace. It addresses questions such as, can their employer discipline them for posting something non-compliant on their personal social media accounts in a purely private capacity? However, this is a resource that’s only available to our members. If you’re already a member, click on ‘Resources’ on the main menu bar and then select ‘Guides’ in the drop-down menu.

I’ve been asked to do a diversity training course at work I’m not comfortable with. Do I have to do it?

We have written a comprehensive guide for people who are uncomfortable about workplace diversity training courses that answers questions like, “Can my employer sack me if I refuse to do Unconscious Bias Training?” However, this is a resource that’s only available to our members. If you’re already a member, click on ‘Resources’ on the main menu bar and then select ‘Guides’ in the drop-down menu.

I’ve been asked to declare my preferred gender pronouns at work. Can I refuse?

We have written a comprehensive guide for people who don’t want to declare their gender pronouns at work. However, this is a resource that’s only available to our members. If you’re already a member, click on ‘Resources’ on the main menu bar and then select ‘Guides’ in the drop-down menu.

A new policy has been introduced at my workplace that prohibits certain forms of speech. Do I have to comply with it?

Our legal and case officers will be able to advise you on what your employer can and cannot stop you from saying (or insist that you say). We will need to see the policy in question before we can provide any advice. Please fill out the ‘Get in Touch’ form and include a link to the policy in the brief summary box.

Can you help if my social media account has been suspended or closed?

We cannot guarantee we can get your social media account restored, but we can advise you of the best approach for each of the major platforms. Our recommended approach often works.

Does the FSU have a particular political point of view or is it associated with a particular political party?

No. The FSU is a non-partisan organisation. The right to free speech is sometimes thought of as something which benefits people on the Right more than the Left, but historically the opposite has been true. In reality, free speech benefits everyone, regardless of their political views.

I would like your help, but I’m worried about disclosing where I work. Can you still help me?

We find it’s best if you give us some details about your case by filling out the ‘Get in Touch’ form, where you don’t have to say where you work. A case officer will then contact you to discuss your case in more detail. Everything you tell us will be treated in the strictest confidence.

I’d like to speak to someone in confidence. Is that possible?

Yes. To arrange a phone call with one of our case officers, please fill out our ‘Get in Touch’ form and a case officer will call you. Everything you say to them will be treated in the strictest confidence.

Legal Assistance

Yes, although this is at our discretion. How much legal help we offer – assuming you require legal help – will depend on our assessment of the particulars of each case, and how strong we think you’re legal case is, i.e., how likely it is to succeed in court. However, if we think you have a legitimate free speech grievance and a winnable case, we will provide pro bono legal support and have done so on many occasions.

The FSU offers the following legal support to its members (at our discretion):

* Helping members understand their legal rights and evaluate legal risks, as well as offering advice on potential legal remedies.

* Providing members with solicitors and barristers. This can be expensive and, where appropriate, we will help members launch crowdfunders to cover legal expenses so they don’t end up out of pocket. We have helped individual members raise more than £70,000 to pay their legal expenses.

* We often seek the advice of members of our Legal Advisory Council, who provide us with pro bono legal help.

If you need legal help, you can contact the Free Speech Union by filling out the form on the ‘Get in Touch’ page. A member of our case or legal team will then contact you.

I’ve been informed by the police that a non-crime hate incident (NCHI) has been recorded against my name. What can I do about that?

A non-crime hate incident (NCHI) is not a criminal offence, but is an episode in which the ‘victim’ perceives that the ‘perpetrator’ is motivated wholly or partly by hostility towards them based on a protected characteristic, i.e., their race, religion, sexual orientation, disability or transgender identity. The police often record NCHIs against people’s names after they’ve been accused of a ‘hate crime’, but in which the police conclude the threshold for criminal prosecution hasn’t been met (although the police don’t always inform people they’ve done this). Having an NCHI recorded against your name is serious because it can show up on your record if you’re asked by a prospective employer to carry out an enhanced criminal record check. It is possible to get NCHIs removed from your record and we have succeeded in doing that for some of our members. We have produced a comprehensive guide on NCHIs and how to get them removed, but you can only read it if you’re a member. If you’re already a member, click on ‘Resources’ on the main menu bar and then select ‘Guides’ in the drop-down menu.

Is hate speech protected by the right to free speech?

While freedom of expression is a fundamental human right, not all forms of speech are protected under UK law. For instance, it is illegal under the Public Order Act 1986 to stir up hatred on the grounds of race, religion or sexual orientation. These ‘stirring up’ offences are sometimes referred to as ‘hate speech’ laws, but not everything described as ‘hate speech’ is illegal. For instance, it is not against the law to say something offensive (although we often have to remind the police of that). As Lord Justice Sedley said in Redmon-Bate v DPP 1999, “Freedom of speech includes not only the inoffensive but the irritating, the contentious, the eccentric, the heretical, the unwelcome and the provocative, provided it does not tend to provoke violence. Freedom only to speak inoffensively is not worth having.”

I have been accused of saying something illegal. Can the FSU help me?

The FSU only defends people who get into trouble for exercising their right to lawful free speech. That means we cannot help people who’ve said or written something that breaks the law. However, we often help people we believe have been wrongly accused of saying or writing something unlawful and, occasionally, we help people we believe have been wrongly convicted of saying or writing something illegal.

In the UK, freedom of speech is protected by various laws, including:

  • The Human Rights Act 1998: The HRA incorporates the European Convention on Human Rights into UK law, including Article 10, which safeguards the right to freedom of expression.
  • Common Law: British common law recognises and upholds the importance of free speech as a fundamental right.
  • The Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Act 2023: The HEFSA protects free speech and academic freedom on university and college campuses, but only in England.
  • The Equality Act 2010: The Equality Act makes it unlawful for employers to discriminate against their employees on the basis of protected religion or belief.

The Ian Mactaggart Programme

What is the Ian Mactaggart Programme?

The Ian Mactaggart Programme is a grant-giving programme administered by the FSU that exists to foster a culture of open debate, independent thinking and free expression among young people in the UK, especially students. It gives grants to individuals, societies and other groups that wish to provide opportunities for debate, open discussion and intellectual exploration among 16-30 year-olds. For more details, click here.

I run a student free speech society (or am thinking about setting one up). Is it eligible for a Mactaggart Programme grant?

The answer is probably yes, whether you’re a sixth former or a university student. To find out for sure, visit our ‘Get in Touch’ page, select the ‘Mactaggart Programme’ from the drop-down menu and fill out the form. Our Outreach Director, Ben Jones, will then contact you to discuss whether you’re eligible for a grant.

Invaluable Support

With you all the way

If you want to speak up about an issue that matters to you, you should be free to do so without fear of being penalised. We have helped over 2,000 people who’ve found themselves in trouble merely for expressing a controversial opinion or for exercising their right to lawful free speech, whether at college or university, in the workplace or on social media.

If you’re looking for information and guidance, or in need immediate help, our team of experts are here to provide assistance, resources and support.