Sharing Economy to Obey the Law



A few weeks ago I wrote a blog called:

When is a B&B not a B&B?

I talked about accommodation providers that advertise themselves purely via third party websites like Airbnb, falling under the radar of the Government and the associated laws which other professional overnight accommodation providers like us have to comply with, thus allowing them to offer a cheaper product, but arguably at less quality and sometimes even dangerous.

They don’t necessarily have any insurance for overnight guests so if anything happened, you would not be able to claim for loss or damage or even worse. Most have no food hygiene rating, fire safety, health and safety training, the list goes on.

To address this issue, this week the Government released an important report on the so-called "Sharing Economy" (ie 'peer-to-peer' platforms like Airbnb).

It was produced by an All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Tourism, Chaired by Gordon Marsden MP, the MP for Blackpool South. The Report calls for “a level playing-field for all tourism businesses”, and calls for Airbnb-type properties and similar small B&Bs to be treated the same way.

It also calls for platforms to "ensure that hosts have, as a minimum, undertaken a fire safety assessment, a health and safety assessment and, where relevant, have Gas Safe certification. Accommodation providers should not be allowed to register properties without proof of these assessments".

A key recommendation in the APPG Report is for the Government to consult on a “low-cost statutory registration scheme for tourism accommodation businesses”. This would help to protect the public, by bringing the safety checks on Airbnb-type premises mandatory – depending on how it was checked.

Every business serving breakfasts to paying guests already has to comply with the national “Scores on the Door” registration scheme with the local Environmental Health office, as they have a legal duty to register as a “food business”. However, I would question if even one locally has, having scoured the on line list of properties registered.

The Report emphasizes the importance of “Delivering a level playing field for all tourism businesses”, and says “considerable concerns have been expressed that hosts providing accommodation via sharing economy platforms do not comply with health and safety regulations”

The Report says: “All visitors are entitled to a minimum level of safety, regardless of the type of accommodation they use and method by which it is booked. We have found that the systems in place for informing hosts of their legal responsibilities are inadequate, to the extent that some even allow hosts to register properties if they confirm that they have no fire safety equipment installed.”

“The APPG for Tourism recommends that the Culture Secretary launch a consultation on using his powers to:

  • Help ensure that all businesses complied with regulations

  • Provide enforcement officers with a database of tourism accommodation properties so that they could target their resources to those properties they deem to be the highest risk

  • Provide councils with greater ability to manage tourism in their area

  • Provide HMRC with a means by which to ensure that all businesses pay the appropriate level of taxation.

“The APPG also recommends that the Government provide Local Authorities with powers to set:

  • The maximum number of days per annum that a property can be used for tourism accommodation

  • Require the owner of the property to be present if a property is used for tourism accommodation”

Other recommendations by the APPG:

  • That sharing economy companies develop and implement procedures that ensure that hosts have, as a minimum, undertaken a fire safety assessment, a health and safety assessment and, where relevant, have Gas Safe certification. Accommodation providers should not be allowed to register properties without proof of these assessments.

  • That Sharing Economy companies explain to hosts before they register that having paid guests staying in their property will affect their home and contents insurance, mortgage, leasehold agreement and that they should purchase public liability insurance.

  • That the public liability insurance provided by sharing economy companies is of the same standard, with the same levels of cover, as commercial products.

  • That far more attention needs to be given, and more research undertaken, as to the experiences of, and impact on, those living in close proximity, either as physical neighbours, or in the neighbourhoods of, properties being used regularly by sharing economy businesses.”

Whilst this all sounds good in theory, no doubt it will take some time to become law, and even then, it’s unlikely anyone will have the time to prosecute anyone flouting the law. As ever, it will only be when things go majorly wrong – like a house fire, food poisoning, or bad accident that anyone will get into trouble. The difference being that as they’ll have broken the law, they will have the book thrown at them. And is that really worth the risk? As well as facing a jail sentence, in all probability those same hosts will have no insurance to claim on as it will be invalid, and their mortgage company could well also call in the outstanding debt as they realise their rules were also broken. Not to mention the affects on the guests.

For now, we’d suggest you always stick to a professional B&B when booking overnight accommodation. One with all it’s papers in order and all it’s training in place. You may pay a little more, but you are assured of a professional service at a certain standard and if anything does go wrong we have £2,000,000 Public Liability Insurance, a serviced fire alarm system, top marks on food hygiene and everything else you need to keep you safe and sound. Sleep well knowing that.

With thanks to the B&B Association for summarising the APPG report quoted above and the work they do on our behalf to champion our industry.

#accommodation #BB

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