If you want change, petitions are not the answer

Budget lobby petitionsSince the Budget in July we’ve had a number of members call or email in to ask why we haven’t actively promoted the online petition against the Government’s proposals to reduce mortgage interest tax relief.

The simple answer that we’ve given to members is we believe the process is a waste of time, and that while we would never discourage landlords from signing it, we are not making it the main focus of our lobbying efforts.

Granted not everyone will agree with us – but we thought it would be useful to explain why the NLA tends not to promote petitions, and what we suggest landlords do to make their voices heard.

How the process works

If a petition gets 20,000 signatures the Government responds to it. In practice this just means that they repeat the same thinking and justification for the scheme that they outlined when they announced it, which is exactly what the Government has done in this case.

If a petition gets over 100,000 signatures then it is considered for a debate of MPs. That sounds impressive to some; however the reality is very different.

Even if it is granted a debate (and remember it needs only be considered) it won’t take place on the floor of the House of Commons but instead in the Grand Committee Room.  This sounds posh but, as you can see, it is effectively a side room which consists of table and cushioned chairs; very different from the grandeur of the Commons and Lords opposing benches. It will also only take place when ‘parliamentary time allows’ meaning that it could be months down the line, by which point the chance to affect change may well have passed. 

Why the scepticism for the process?

Attendance at debates is often abysmal, and most MPs that attend will have been put up by their whips to speak on the petition’s behalf; or more accurately to go through the motions, speak around the general subject and then ask MPs to consider the petition and note its contents. However, relatively few petitions ever reach debate stage.

An example of one which did was entitled ‘To debate a vote of no confidence in Health Secretary the Right Hon Jeremy Hunt’.  At the start of the debate however, MPs had to stress that the Petitions Committee does not have the power to initiate a vote of no confidence.  Furthermore, the Secretary of State did not answer for the Government, but instead the Under-Secretary of State for Health, Ben Gummer responded to questions.  As you can see, it was really packed to the rafters. 

Other lobbing groups share our scepticism

The online petition site was a good innovation, but petitions are rarely an accurate gauge of public feeling on any issue and should not be used as such.

For example, the combined number of teachers and nurses in the UK stands at approximately 800,000, yet just 12,000 or 1.5% (at time of writing) have signed a petition entitled Remove the 1% public sector pay cap. Teachers, nurses etc. deserve a pay rise too’. This shows that the trade unions lobbying for change for these professions share the same scepticism for the process that we do, and that ultimately they’re not taking it seriously as a means of effectively changing government policy.

Government is already debating the proposals

Finally, and more importantly in this case, the Budget proposals are already being debated by MPs, so why do we need a petition? The Budget is a piece of legislation which, like any other, needs to be debated and follow the proper passage of a Bill.

It’s in Parliament that the NLA is focusing its effort, working hard to meet with and brief MPs in order to gain support for possible amendments to the Bill. 

Join us and lobby your MP more effectively

Not all MPs are aware just how much this will impact on landlords and their tenants, so we need to get as many on board to be our voice in Parliament in order to influence change on the Finance Bill.

And here’s where we ask for your support. We need you to contact your MP. To help we have introduced NLA Lobby, which will allow you to send a pre-written email to your local MP voicing your opposition to the proposals. All you need to do is input just a few bits of information in order to find out who your local MP is. It’s simple and takes a matter of minutes.

So sign a petition, by all means. But if you’re concerned about being able to survive the proposed Budget changes once they come into full effect in 2020, then your best option is to get lobbying your local MP before it’s too late.

5 thoughts on “If you want change, petitions are not the answer

  1. I do not dispute the NLA’s logic of petitions politics. Is there not a case for both a petition and MP lobbying? There are two sides to this coin. Whilst partitioning could be pointless; failure to petition could be inferred as tacit acceptance of the Chancellors logic (albeit lack thereof). So those favoring MIR reductions could place weight on the absence of signatures on the landlord’s petition and that the NLA appears indifferent to it.

  2. Since July I have been actively lobbying my local MP. She is getting the same meaningless, greed-justified replies from various Treasury officials. Until the tenants will not understand the consequences and protest against that we will achieve nothing.

  3. I’ve already written to my MP, but got no reply – well they were off on their grand summer holidays at the time.
    I’m going to write again, and ask him to ask the Chancellor why he lied to parliament (or “misled the house” since I don’t think they are allowed to accuse another of lying) as to the effect of this measure. I’ll also add that this is a scope of misdirection and hidden taxation that Gordon Brown would have been proud of while he was in office.

    I’ll then go on to add to my previous email. In that I pointed out that I would have no choice but to increase rents (I have never done this for sitting tenants in the 14 years I’ve been a landlord). I can now point out that I have done so, and I’ve made it clear to the tenants that this taxation change is the reason.

    Why do I accuse the Chancellor of lying ? Two reasons :
    1) He put this across as only affecting higher rate taxpayers. Well I suppose technically he is correct, but the lie is that the proposals will make many basic rate taxpayers into higher rate taxpayers !
    2) He said it would have no effect on tenants or rents. I’ve put my rents up already, and se the next bit, it’ll reduce my investment in maintenance and upgrades.
    3) Oops, did I say two ! It’ll reduce investment and maintenance. At present, if I have a long void and put what little I have of savings into refurbishments (of more than the “slap of paint between tenants” kind) then I’ll make a loss for the year. Under the current rules, I can carry that loss forward against next years profits, and the next year, and the next until the loss is used up.
    Under the new rules, it will be really hard to make a loss – and hence I can’t recover that “missing loss” and so any major work is likely to cost up to 25% more.
    That’s a neat trick – a populist move that adds an (up to) 25% hidden tax to PRS property maintenance ! That’s why I said Gordon Brown would have been proud to have thought of that.

    So get writing to your MP. If you don’t get a satisfactory answer, write again. If you just get the “standard blurb” back, write again and challenge the facts.
    Many years ago, in a different activity area, we were faced with new laws. Someone in our club had, at that time, reached a level of speaking with ministers etc in his day job. He informed us that getting 100 letters on a topics was considered “a lot”, getting a thousand was a deluge – such is the level of “non involvement” in the general population.
    Think what the effects of every member of NLA (and RLA, we’re both on the same side in this) wrote to our MPs ? It’s certainly enough to stop it going through without comment.

  4. Great article, Simon, lots of neat ideas.
    We are warning all our tenants that the rent will have to go up. Nobody seems to know what is being prepared for them.
    I personally think that until the tenants understand what is awaiting them in the future, no number of landlords will make any choice. My MP is passing letters from Landlords to the Treasury and get the same blurb. I do not think she will do it anymore.
    I guess that the Tenants should start a huge petition vie Change.org or 38 degrees. They are known for efficiency and results.
    I am not sure if Tenants have any organisation as we landlords do, but they must be aware.

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