Writing letters & emails

Successful campaigners advise against cut-and-paste pre-written letters. MPs, MEPs and others soon start disregarding those once the repetition starts to mount up. What’s needed is individual communication from those directly affected by an issue.

That said, as soon as you’ve prepared one personal letter, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t send it to as many different officials as you can.

Contacting UK Westminster MPs is still best done via hard copy letter as those are guaranteed a reply whereas email isn’t. Thankfully the EU does correspond online.

If you have the time and inclination, you can also contact your own MP directly by making a constituency surgery appointment.

This is a very handy online resource to help you write to all or some of your local, national and international elected representatives at once – the ‘Write to Them’ website.

You can find details of your MEPs here.

MPs in UK Parliament

Scots – find your MSP
Northern Ireland – your MLAs
National Assembly for Wales – members

Consider contacting your local press and media, as well as national newspapers and broadcasters. One letter or email will probably get filed as trivial. A whole batch of letters or emails on the same topic suggests there’s a story to be had.

Here’s a list of key points, so you can include the ones most relevant to you personally.

Make the economic case for your micro-business
Income from small-scale e-commerce, supplementing a household income, stays largely in the local, bricks & mortar economy. Individually, the sums involved may be small but with over 350,000 registered sole traders in the UK, that money does add up.

This income often helps keep small-scale sole traders off social security benefits or needing support from other services for the low-paid, part-time, retired etc.

As and when small-scale web-based businesses grow, they will provide taxable income to bolster the wider UK economy. Some hugely successful companies have started this way.

Small-scale e-traders are not out to avoid or evade taxes. It’s simply impossible to comply with these new rules
The payment systems used for small-scale e-commerce such as PayPal simply do not provide the required location data for the VATMOSS system.

Even if this changes, secure storage of that data for 10 years in a way that satisfies the Information Commissioner’s requirements for EU-based servers is impossible for small businesses using global internet resources who may hold that data anywhere.

The shopping and payment systems available to small-scale traders don’t have the facilities to exclude EU customers from buying UK traders’ e-products – even if such a ban were legal which HMRC’s own advice indicates may contravene discrimination legislation.

Telling small-scale traders in e-products to use 3rd party websites is no solution
There is considerable confusion over which 3rd party web platforms and market places will accept liability for managing VAT issues.

Such 3rd party sites offer their services for a fee or a percentage of sales, or both. Imposing these costs on small traders may well make their businesses unviable.

Forcing small traders to use 3rd parties rather than selling direct is hugely anti-competitive from the outset and may well have further consequences for businesses and consumers alike if these 3rd parties end up as monopoly sellers and can dictate punitive terms and conditions.

What options remain for those traders selling e-products not suitable for 3rd party marketplaces?

Defining one-off transactions where a customer purchases a digital file as a ‘service’ fundamentally misunderstands the nature of small-scale e-commerce.
Signing up for Kindle (or Nook or Google Play) certainly qualifies as buying an electronic service. It means downloading app software to a device and buying the ongoing benefits of cloud storage, the ability to re-download titles, to read those books on other equipment, so on and so forth. The same is true of services offering music, online gaming etc. Those see both parties engage in an on-going commercial relationship.

This is wholly different to small-scale purchases of knitting patterns, music, artwork, photos, how-to-guides, the list goes on and on… direct from the producer or an intermediary such as a small press publisher. That is a one-off transaction to purchase a digital file – nearly always DRM free these days – with no ongoing relationship expected or implied.

Consultation and communication on all this has been wholly inadequate.
Most small-scale e-traders have only become aware of all this with less than two months to go, in the run up to Christmas.

HMRC say notification has gone out with other news about VAT. Traders who aren’t VAT registered won’t have had these, or imagined any reason why they should go looking.

Consulting about such changes with organisations like the Federation of Small Businesses completely misses the fact that their definitions of a ‘small’ or ‘micro’ business relates to far bigger operations than the majority of small-scale e-traders.

Other organisations who might have been expected to establish and advise on the likely impact on their members (such as writers’ organisations) report no attempt at consultation was made.

Incidentally, informal legal advice from eminently qualified pals tells me a solid case could be made for judicial review on the grounds of inadequate consultation alone. Alas, I don’t have the tens of thousands of pounds to spare, to risk such an undertaking…

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