Accommodation licensing is a blow for business

Iona MacPhie from Luib, Isle of Skye. PHOTO: Willie Urquhart/WHFP
Read Iona’s letter below story

• Small operators say letting rules are ‘double whammy’ after Covid

Following an outcry last week by tourism body SkyeConnect, Highland Council has not ruled out varying the fees it will charge for the licensing of short-term lets.

An online event was hosted by SkyeConnect last week in response to the “unexpected inclusion” of bed and breakfast accommodation in the Scottish Government’s short-term let licensing legislation, which is still in draft form.

David Weston, chair of the Scottish B&B Association, addressed the webinar and was in no doubt that licensing will have a “devastating impact on the sector which is already reeling” from Covid-19.

He said: “These microbusinesses – like many thousands across Scotland – are a keystone of Scotland’s tourism offer to domestic and international visitors. In the islands, Highland and rural areas and villages across the country, B&Bs and self-catering properties are often the only tourism accommodation, and the spend by their guests supports these fragile economies.

“The business owners on today’s webinar were understandably very concerned that the poorly-drafted ‘Short-Term Lets’ licensing legislation would be hugely onerous to microbusinesses in Skye and right across Scotland and would be a catastrophic ‘double whammy’ after these very same, small family businesses have been so disproportionately hit by Covid-19.”

SkyeConnect maintain that the fees for licensing accommodation with the council could be as high as £2,000 per business.

However, the council told the Free Press that the process to determine the fees has not been completed, and urged those affected to respond to the Parliamentary consultation before the cut-off date of this Friday. The draft regulations, published just before Christmas, will then be considered by the Local Government and Communities Committee.

A spokeswoman added: “The fees are not proposed to be the subject of a statutory instrument but instead are at the discretion of each local authority to set. However, the fees must be set to ensure they are sufficient to cover the local authority’s administrative expenses.

“In order to calculate this, it requires work to be carried out with our finance department as to the cost of processing and determining a licence taking into account income vs expenditure. It also requires to take into account the cost of resourcing the new licensing regime including factors such as recruiting additional staff, building and IT costs.

“In terms of setting differing levels of fees, this also needs to be assessed based on whether the processing of these applications will take longer, ie be more costly to administer.

“This is an ongoing exercise and ultimately cannot be completed until the draft Regulations are finalised and we know for certain what types of letting premises will or will not be included within the licensing regime.

Once this is known, it will require a paper to go to the Licensing Committee on the setting of fees for their determination.”

Local MSP Kate Forbes told the Free Press she had “raised the concerns of constituents” with the Housing Minister Kevin Stewart. She also stressed the importance of responding to the consultation.

She added: “I fully understand the concern of those across Skye and Lochalsh. In particular, I realise that the tourism industry has been through the most awful time. To that end, the deadlines associated with this have been extended to April 2023 so that the sector has some breathing space.

The purpose of the licensing scheme is a set of mandatory standards which apply to all short-term lets and I imagine that the vast majority of hosts already comply with all of these standards – and more.”

A working group is currently being established to develop guidance, she said, and there will “definitely be a representative from the B&B sector, as well as self-catering to “influence, inform and shape” that guidance.

She also maintained that the Scottish B&B Association responded to both Scottish Government consultations on the issue, in 2019 and 2020, and were “clear that they were in favour of levelling the playing field between B&Bs and properties listed on platforms such as Airbnb.”

Ms Forbes added: “In terms of fees, there has been much concern about fees of several thousand points. The Scottish Government has not specified the specific fee level that local authorities should charge, and there is scope for local authorities to consider setting different fees for different types of short-term lets.

“As the MSP for Skye and Lochalsh I will ensure that the concerns of SkyeConnect and others are passed on to those steering the legislation through parliament.”

Iona MacPhee
Photo: Willie Urquhart/WHFP

“Locals who have saved should not be forced to give up their properties”

Along with many other local residents on Skye I am concerned regarding the proposed short-term letting regulation law change on self-catering accommodation and B&Bs.

A small bit of background on myself and my partner. We are both in our 20s, born and bred here on Skye. Our families have resided here for as far back as we know.

We are one of the very few lucky couples who have managed to scrimp and save to buy a house.

The house was on the top end of our budget at £250,000. We used the help to buy scheme to buy it and it was barely liveable.

We live in 25 per cent of the house and have spent the last two years putting every penny of our wages towards renovating the larger side.

We both work over 40 hours per week and the minute we get home we are straight into renovations until the minute we go to bed.

The renovations include re-concreting the floor, fixing leaks in the floor and the roof, new bathrooms, carpets, kitchen, walls and so much more.

Due to Covid we could not open for guests when we wanted to back in June 2020 and have to continue to look after the running costs of this large house by ourselves.

It feels as if the Scottish Government are attempting to push out small holiday accommodation business owners in order to force availability for long-term letting. At the same time they have such strict regulations for landlords of long term let properties that it makes it almost impossible to evict a bad tenant from your own property.

Personally, I would rather struggle to pay our mortgage and have my property lying empty than risk thousands of court fees – and potentially years of stress – to evict a bad tenant. As someone who has struggled to find accommodation myself over the years, I find that really sad.

What the country really needs is government built affordable homes. Not forcing local people to provide this for them.

Should the proposed law change go ahead we would yet again be delayed in opening as we would have to save up even more to start our business with the new fees.

Should our home need amendments to make it more energy efficient this could set us back years.

Please reconsider passing these laws for Skye. Most residents here are not wealthy – we are simply trying to make an honest living.

Iona Macphie,
Isle of Skye