MSPs approve short-term let licensing scheme in Scotland

Scotland: MSPs on a Holyrood committee have approved plans to introduce a licensing scheme on short-term lets in Scotland.

The news was welcomed by housing secretary Shona Robison, who said the regulations would “allow local authorities and communities to take action to manage issues more effectively”, however some members on the Local Government Committee and self-catering business leaders had called for a registration scheme that would place less of a burden on individual property owners.

Under the proposed scheme, local authorities will be required to implement a licensing scheme on short-term lets in Scotland by 1 October. Meanwhile, existing hosts and operators will need to apply for a licence by 1 April 2023, and all short-term lets would have to be fully licensed by 1 April 2024.

Scottish Conservative housing spokesperson Miles Briggs intervened to state the case for a registration scheme, in place of the government’s plans to require all hosts and operators to obtain a licence to operate. Despite saying that a licensing scheme would have a “potential negative impact on already fragile tourism businesses”, his proposal was rejected by Robison.

Robison said: “We do not believe that registration offers the same protection as licensing does to guests, neighbours and local communities. This legislation is a significant milestone on our path to bringing in an effective system of regulating short-term lets.

“Our licensing scheme will allow local authorities and communities to take action to manage issues more effectively, without unduly curtailing the many benefits of short-term lets to hosts, visitors and the economy,” she added.

Fiona Campbell, chief executive of the Association of Scotland’s Self-Caterers [ASSC], told The Herald Scotland: “The ASSC have always sought a collaborative approach to short-term let regulation.

“While disappointed that we were not able to persuade SNP and Scottish Green MSPs, we are very grateful for the support of Scottish Conservative, Scottish Labour and Scottish Lib Dem MSPs who voted against short-term let licensing to protect our sector, as well as the shrewd and informed interventions from former Scottish Government cabinet secretary Fergus Ewing MSP who backed Scottish tourism by speaking out against these ‘arbitrary, irrational, and draconian’ regulations.”

“The ASSC maintain that the licensing order remains unfit for purpose, lacks an evidence base and was more often than not based on groundless fears, anecdote and hearsay.

“The self-catering sector has been used as a convenient scapegoat for wider policy failures by government, especially on housing. In contrast, our proposal for a mandatory registration scheme with health and safety provisions had cross-industry and cross-party support and would have provided a robust and legally effective regulatory regime,” she added.

Following three rounds of public consultation, the Local Government Committee convened in December, where views on both sides of the debate were heard.

On one hand, Amanda Cupples, general manager for Northern Europe at Airbnb, said hosts had been “bewildered” by the letting proposals due to their benefits for Scotland’s tourism economy, and on the other, Police Scotland highlighted issues that they had encountered in short-term lets, such as drug-dealing, prostitution, and illegal puppy farming operations.

A report published last week stressed the importance of a review taking place on the impact of short-term lets on the tourism sector in 2023, while weighing up both sides’ concerns. MSPs on the committee opposed to a potential registration scheme argued for the issue to be reassessed in the Scottish Government’s review next year.

A similar consultation on a potential Tourist Accommodation Registration Scheme is also being considered in England, following a debate in Westminster a fortnight ago. Ministers pledged to launch a consultation later this year analysing the effects of holiday let booking platforms on the housing market, with a registration scheme on the table.