Home Office attacks rifle clubs with 1,250% fee hike plan

13 Jan 2017 – A new government consultation reveals that the Home Office wants to destroy the sport of target shooting by punishing rifle clubs with £1,000 increases in approval fees.

The consultation, published yesterday afternoon, attacks museums, section 5 dealers, armed private maritime security companies (PMSCs) and Home Office approved rifle clubs.

In its introduction, the unnamed author of the consultation writes: “The costs of the firearms licensing regime should properly be attributed to the organisations benefiting from the licence, and not the taxpayer.”

Revealing that the real reason for these punitive costs is down to one or more out-of-control civil servants taking out their personal politics on the licensed firearms community, the very next sentence says: “Charging in this way ensures the real  economic cost of safeguarding high risk activities is understood by licence holders.” (UKSN bold/highlighting)

The plans will result in an increase to Home Office profits of nearly £600,000 a year, from clubs, museums and section 5 dealers, with police netting extra profits of £69,000 a year.

The proposed increase for clubs is from £84 to £1,050 – an increase of 1,250%. £470 will be payable every time the named club secretary, or anyone else named on the approval, is changed – a serious concern for university rifle clubs.

Olympic pistol shooters will also be hit by a tax of £470 every three years to renew their section 5 authorisations for sporting pistols used to represent the country.

Approving rifle and muzzle-loading pistol clubs is nominally a Home Office activity and is funded through a fee payable by clubs along with general taxation. In reality what happens is the Home Office banks the cheque and a local police force does all the actual work of assessing approval applications, with the Home Office printing off a form approval letter with the club secretary’s name on it after police give them the green light to act. UKSN’s author has taken two rifle clubs through the approval process in the last 10 years and on the second occasion, last year, effectively had to set the Home Office on a disobedient Metropolitan Police until the service paid for was supplied.

The consultation webpage can be viewed on GOV.UK. The consultation itself and the flawed impact assessment with it are also there. It closes on

Get the consultation withdrawn

In its current form the consultation is unfit for purpose and must be withdrawn, with the fee hike plan accordingly halted. It is based on incomplete data, flawed assumptions and filled with language tending to suggest that its real motive is political, not financial. These are discussed in detail below.

Incomplete data

As the government department mandated by law to do so, the Home Office approves rifle clubs which apply for it. Approval allows club members to use club firearms without holding a firearm certificate of their own. To gain approval, the club must meet a list of legal criteria published on the authority of the Home Secretary.

With that in mind, it is a matter of very serious concern that the Home Office doesn’t know how many rifle clubs are approved. Footnote 10 from page 5 of the fees impact assessment (PDF) refers:

home office out of control.png

There is no need for the Home Office to estimate this data. The full number of approved clubs, their grants and renewals is (or should be) held centrally for the full 6 year period. Why has the full dataset not been used? Given the language used in the consultation and the impact assessment (see later), this tends to suggest a partial data range was used to give an undue advantage to the Home Office position on hiking fees.

Flawed assumptions

Under the crossheading “Appraisal – (costs and benefits)” on page 7 of the impact assessment we see the Home Office, in all seriousness, proposing a 1,250% fee increase and claiming that there will be no consequent reduction in the number of clubs paying that fee:

It is assumed that numbers of applicants for new licences, and renewals of and variations to existing licences, will be equal to the average annual number of applications in the previous three years and not significantly influenced by the proposed fee changes.

This is nonsense. Rifle clubs are not businesses and typical turnover levels range from £12,000 per annum for a medium-sized university club of 30 members to perhaps a million or so for a major Bisley club with hundreds of members complete with clubhouse, bar and restaurant. Major clubs may be better placed to swallow a £1,000 fee but the increase will kill smaller clubs, particularly ones run by and for young people, as they simply do not have the capital to meet the increased fees. It is notable that the Home Office deliberately ignored the knock-on effects of hiking fees.

It also seeks to charge the taxpayer twice for the Drugs and Firearms Licensing Section (DFLS)’s London HQ in Marsham Street, along with the centrally-contracted Home Office IT used by them and even the cost of the Home Office’s HR department. Marsham Street has been a Civil Service building for decades, housing civil servants from all government departments, and would firmly remain so even if the DFLS ceased to exist. Ditto the Home Office HR department. The costs of a fixed HQ owned by the Civil Service are totally inappropriate for inclusion in any proposed fees structure.

Political language

The rationale of the fees increase, as given in the impact assessment, is so it “ensures the real economic cost of safeguarding high risk activities is understood by licence holders.” (sic)

This ties into an ongoing campaign by Labour MPs over the last few years designed to demonise the peaceful sport of target shooting and stamp it out by driving up costs imposed on shooters by police and central government. This campaign was mostly  successful last year, when FAC and SGC fees payable to police were hiked up following a disgraceful abuse of police PR resources over the preceding year in order to milk the shooting cash cow harder. It appears pressure has been brought behind the scenes on civil servants to comply with this political campaign by the Opposition, perhaps made easier in the power vacuum formed by a new Home Secretary and Firearms Minister taking post just 7 months ago, with both still getting to grips with their respective briefs.

The decision to ignore the obvious step of fee increases being passed on by certificate holders to end customers (club members, section 5 RFDs, dealers and shooters using licensed carriers and airlines for transporting guns) is baffling. One must assume this was done in order that the obvious negative effects on the shooting sports could be disregarded, easing the passage of these swingeing measures.

In addition, the presentation of a nonsensical “cost per year” (figure 2, page 8 of the consultation) is clearly intended to give campaigning ammunition to the minority who support these punitive fee increases by creating a false impression that the fees will be affordable over a period of time. None of the fees in the consultation are payable in annual instalments – they are all payable upfront only – and there are no plans for them to be offered in instalments by the Home Office. One does not speak of buying a passport as “only costing a tenner a year” and neither does anyone in the shooting community speak of Home Office fees in this way.

Singling out Olympic pistol shooters for a £470 tax each is disgraceful. These are elite athletes who represent GB at home and abroad. We as a nation absolutely must not be penalising our athletes financially in addition to starving them of access to the sporting equipment they need to train and compete.

What to do next

The obvious thing is to respond to the consultation. However, it is wise not to do so immediately. National bodies such as the NRA (who are aware of this) need time to write their responses so the rest of us can read them and be informed.

We also need to write to ministers to have this unfit for purpose consultation halted – specifically, the relevant ones at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and also at the Home Office. DCMS is relevant because target shooting is a sport, and DCMS also controls bodies such as Sport England who in turn give funding towards the Olympic disciplines.

Relevant DCMS ministers

Culture Secretary Karen Bradley – https://www.gov.uk/government/people/karen-bradleykaren.bradley.mp@parliament.uk

Under Secretary of State Tracey Crouch – https://www.gov.uk/government/people/tracey-crouchtracey.crouch.mp@parliament.uk

Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Civil Society Rob Wilson – https://www.gov.uk/government/people/rob-wilsonrobwilsonmp@parliament.uk

Home Office ministers

Home Secretary Amber Rudd (pictured at top) – privateoffice.external@homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk

Policing minister Brandon Lewis – https://www.gov.uk/government/people/brandon-lewishelen.hill@parliament.uk (evidently his PA)

(It is notable that the Gun Control Network whinged in December that Lewis told them he wouldn’t authorise public money to be spent on their pet shop-a-gun owner hotline)

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8 thoughts on “Home Office attacks rifle clubs with 1,250% fee hike plan

  1. AndyJ

    We are told: “The costs of the firearms licensing regime should properly be attributed to the organisations benefiting from the licence, and not the taxpayer.”
    So who is the beneficiary of firearms legislation? Quite obviously it is the general public who benefit from ensuring that the ownership and use of firearms is conducted in a safe, responsible manner so it seems quite reasonable that they should contribute towards ensuring that end.

    My club has just gone through Approval renewal and the Home Office contribution to the process appears to be sending out two letters and banking the cheque. The asessment of our club was done (quite efficiently as it happens) by our local firearms licensing unit assisted by one phone call to the secretary.

    Most price increases are based on something like RPI + 2%. Anything more is obviously intended to change demand for the product or act as a deterrent..

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  2. Iain Robertson

    Well said. Do you have details for the shadow Home Secretary to hand – the production standard of the IA might be of interest to ask across the Floor?

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  3. Dr Donald F Hooker

    Don

    Well all I know is that the police have an agenda to remove as many firearms license holders as is possible – I had my license removed because having a relationship with a lady who has depression and an autistic daughter were used as an excuse to have it removed – the police will look for any excuse – They even try to tell you what is the best gun for a particular activity as a shooter with over 50 years of experience – The whole system of controlling and financing of licences has gotten completely out of control and in many cases completely defies logic.

    I was and have been a professional – risk assessed – insured pest controller in great demand by many people to whom pests pose a serious threat to their living.

    The only place where sense appears to prevail is in the Crown Courts where a ballanced case may be heard.

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  4. Mark

    This is blatant discrimination and exploitation of a minority group. Image the uproar if such punitive action was taken against other minorities in this country. I sincerely hope the shooting associations lawyers are all over this and that’s they collaborate in order to present the best case possible. The community is stifled by the fear that surrounds gun ownership in the UK – step out of line (in the eyes of the home office) and lose your licence. We need the associations and their lawyers to have a bigger, stronger voice in the places that matter. Please do not allow another stab at the shooting community to go unnoticed.

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  5. James Crint

    I am the Treasurer of a small club that shoots at Bisley. We have 26 members and a turnover of around £4,500 per annum. All our members are FAC holders and we only have one club rifle which is stored in the Bisley armoury. Our Club Secretary does hold stocks of ammunition which is sold to Club members on shooting days at a cost plus very small profit. So what work is involved in approving our Club? Practically nothing as the relevant checks have already been carried out on members as they are FAC holders. As stated already this is just a blatant attack on target shooting sports by the Home Office, no doubt in collusion with the Police in order to destroy our sport by pricing it out of reach of many people.

    James

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  6. Granville

    It’s disappointing to hear that other sections of the shooting community are being unsupportive of shooters affected by the latest proposed fee increases. This is a very short sighted attitude as we all know that the fixed objective of the HO and Police is the removal of all privately owned firearms, and this has been a settled policy for many years.

    But why this obsessive concern? Decades ago I asked a serving police officer friend this same question and his chilling reply was “If there’s trouble on the streets we don’t want you lot shooting back” . Might seem a bit over the top? Well, there’s some history here, but we have to go back a few hundred years. It’s clear that the private ownership of firearms has been customary from at least the 1300’s, it gets a one line mention in the 1689 Bill of Rights, but rather more telling is Judge Blackstone’s commentary of 1770, which is worth giving in full:

    “when actually violated or attacked, the subjects of England are entitled, in the first place, to the regular administration and free course of justice in the courts of law; next, to the right of petitioning the king and parliament for redress of grievances; and, lastly, to the right of having and using arms for self-preservation and defence.”

    The rub is in the last sentence as it implies a right of insurrection, and this is the spectre that haunts all governments. So, fellow shooters of whatever discipline, stick together and remember that the HO and the police are not on our side in this. Let us all combine to show that we are responsible citizens simply interested in sport shooting and not in the armed overthrow of our governments.

    Granville

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