Scotland: A motion to halt an upcoming licensing scheme for short-term lets in Scotland has been denied after a vote failed to pass in the Scottish Parliament.
Using its parliamentary business slot, the Scottish Conservative & Unionist Party had previously committed to forcing a vote on a 12-month delay to a national short-term let licensing scheme ahead of a deadline on 1 October, but the government lodged an amendment which was ultimately supported with 62 votes to 54. The party argued that the implementation of the proposed new rules would have a significantly detrimental effect on the Scottish tourism sector and wider economy, with one recent report suggesting that up to 80 per cent of short-term lets could be delisted from the market in Edinburgh as a result.
The deadline had already been extended for hosts to apply for licences until 1 October to hold more consultation on the matter. However, Scottish National Party [SNP] leader Humza Yousaf, who became First Minister in March, had initially ruled out a second extension to the deadline after protests from accommodation providers last week caused a rethink.
Shadow business and tourism secretary, Murdo Fraser MSP, urged ministers to pause the licensing scheme legislation and allow for “a comprehensive review of its effects”.
While the Labour and Conservative Parties had called for a halt to the licensing schemes that were originally passed in 2018, Scotland’s Green Party said that communities in the country would feel “betrayed” by its two counterparts’ stances, claiming that it was “vital” to manage the “dramatic growth of short-term lets and the impact on communities”.
The scheme will apply to bed & breakfasts [B&Bs], guest houses and self-catering properties, though hotels will not be covered by the proposed regulation.
As a result, hosts will need to apply for a licence in order to rent out a room or an entire property, and could be liable to fines of up to £2,500 if they do not comply. They will also be required to display energy performance [EPC] ratings and proof that they comply with fire and gas safety precautions on any listings, have adequate buildings, and be covered by public liability insurance.
A short-term let is described as a “property or part of a property that is rented out for a short period of time”, such as for a holiday or business trip, including whole properties or rooms within a host’s home. It can refer to anything from self-catered accommodation, B&Bs, guest houses, chalets, stationary homes, boathouses, and more that are detailed on the VisitScotland website.
Following yesterday’s debate at the Scottish Parliament, Fiona Campbell, CEO of the Association of Scotland’s Self Caterers [ASSC], said: “It gives little confidence to businesses when those forcing through this legislation fail to understand it. Even at this late stage, many don’t even understand the policy intention – they’ve had over 22 months to get to grips with it.
“False hope is being offered to communities on the one hand, that the housing crisis will be eased by driving self-caterers out of business, whilst on the other we are being told that this is about health and safety, and not about driving down STL [short-term let] numbers.
“Housing Minister Paul McLennan said he has listened to industry but he definitely hasn’t heard. All of our policy solutions designed to deal with legitimate concerns were casually dismissed. His predecessor, Kevin Stewart, noted the proposed Welsh regulations were based on what has happened here. In reality, the similarities between the two ends at the word ‘licensing’. The ASSC would readily support the fair and low-cost Welsh system in place of what we have which is unworkable at best and unlawful at worst.
“We are pro-regulation but the right balance has not been struck – what currently stands is onerous, guilty of severe overreach, jeopardises the viability of the Edinburgh Festivals and Scotland’s position as a leading visitor destination. It will be catastrophic not only for the £1 billion self-catering industry but B&Bs, as well as those in tourism and hospitality including cafes, restaurants and taxis who rely on our guest spend.
“The Scottish Government doesn’t need a repeat of the DRS fiasco on its hands, but it is repeating the same mistakes, blindly forcing through incompetent legislation. It must listen to the voice of small business and pause this disastrous scheme now, enabling a much-needed rethink before it is too late. The industry will work constructively and collaboratively to devise a fair, balanced and legally sound regulatory framework,” she added.
Andy Fenner, CEO of the UK Short-Term Accommodation Association [STAA], said: “This attempt by MSPs really was the last chance saloon in terms of trying to win a common sense delay to the licensing scheme, so it could be looked at again.
“We remain deeply concerned that the holiday let industry, a sector that brings so much opportunity and prosperity to Scotland, has become the fall guy for insufficient housebuilding over many years. The Scottish short-term rental sector is actually an incredibly valuable part of the economy and it is a huge draw for the millions of visitors who flock here every year.
“Scottish holiday lets need to be recognised as a boon to Scottish tourism and the wider hospitality industry. It’s now vital that those owners and operators yet to apply for their licence do so by 1 October, otherwise they won’t benefit from the ability to continue operating while their application is decided. They will be treated as new operators who cannot accept bookings until they have been awarded a licence,” he added.