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Consultations - Why do so few participate?

It’s no surprise that figures don’t always show the results or consequences we expect - even if they are entirely accurate.

Look at recent political votes. Donald Trump clearly won the Presidency of the United States, under its electoral college rules, yet polled almost three million fewer votes than Hillary Clinton. 

At home, Labour clearly lost the 2017 General Election on 12.88m votes compared to the Conservative’ total of 13.64m - yet its performance created a mood music far more triumphalist than that from the Tories, because of Labour’s poor expectations.

These peculiarities came to mind when I saw the figures for the consultation exercises undertaken by the government on key housing issues in the past year or so.

It’s not that the government didn’t fulfil its side of the deal - a few weeks ago I blogged on just how many consultation exercises there have been, so no one can say we haven’t been asked for our views.

There was plenty of publicity for each consultation and although we can quibble about when they were announced and whether their durations were sufficient, the government certainly did not hesitate to ask the industry and the public for their views.

However, my beef now is on how few responses there have been. 

Here’s a list of key consultations in 2017 for which the Department of Communities and Local Government has released response figures: 

- Consultation on proposed banning order offences under the Housing and Planning Act 2016: there were 223 responses;

- Extension of mandatory licensing of Houses in Multiple Occupation including minimum room sizes: there were 395 responses;

- Tackling unfair practices in the leasehold market: 6,075 responses;

- Basement developments and the planning system: 88 responses;

- Banning letting fees paid by tenants: 4,724 responses;

- Planning and affordable housing for Build To Rent: 221 responses.

Of the two large responses, the significant majority of responses came from private individuals not from industry individuals.

So on the leasehold consultation, of the 6,075 responses some 5,336 were private individuals of which 2,790 were leaseholders living in a house and 1,699 leaseholders living in a flat.

On the lettings fees consultation, of the 4,724 responses some 50 per cent were from individual tenants - not counting tenant organisations and groups like Shelter.

Even in these examples, I am surprised at the relatively modest number of respondents: on the letting agency fees consultation in particular, there was immense publicity in all areas of the trade press and amongst trade organisations, yet agents‘ responses totalled only around a third of the total - so that’s about 1,500.  

The government, quite reasonably, says consultation is not just a numbers game: it proposes a policy before the consultation, and does not necessarily amend it just because a majority of respondents back it or oppose it. 

And the government certainly does not abandon a policy because there are relatively few who respond, as the high-profile announcements on banning orders for rogue agents and landlords demonstrated: the DCLG went to town on publicity for the policy between Christmas and the New Year, despite admitting there were just 223 responses. 

But is it not better if more individuals from the industry do their bit and respond? 

Trade organisations are very diligent in this regard, and of course have the time and resources to respond; and I appreciate that an agent has plenty of other things to do than complete an online form which can be long and not especially user-friendly.

Yet however sceptical we may be about whether we’re listened to, these consultation exercises are amongst the few opportunities that exist for us to have a say. 

We’re all quick to complain about policies which we believe unfairly affect our industry: shouldn’t we make a New Year resolution to respond to these consultations, too?

*Editor of Estate Agent Today and Letting Agent Today, Graham can be found tweeting all things property @PropertyJourn

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    Surely the low response to consultation is confirmation of the lack of trust that the government will actually take note of responses.

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    I think most of us have worked out how little these government people know about most subjects vs the almost unstoppable desire to do important political "things".

    What is the point of responding to their nonsense?
    Probably better to just watch until they make a real screw up and then pounce on a new business opportunity which appears.

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