The Association of Scotland’s Self-Caterers (ASSC) has revealed that just a small fraction of short-term let businesses in Scotland have seen their licensing applications approved by local councils.
Freedom of Information requests were submitted to every local authority to ascertain the numbers of licenses which had been granted, declined or pending approval, as well as the total fees collected. According to the data compiled by the ASSC, less than 5,000 have been granted so far, equating to around 15% of the Scottish Government’s estimate of 32,000 short-term lets in Scotland.
Thousands of small and micro businesses across the country now face an anxious wait to see if they can continue to operate. The loss of short-term let accommodation has worrying implications for Scotland’s position as a leading tourism destination. Meanwhile, local authorities have made approximately £10m through non-refundable licensing fees. Worryingly, a number of councils have included enforcement fees into the fee structure in breach of Provision of Services Regulations.
The Minister for Housing Paul McLennan MSP claims that no licensing applications have been refused. Regrettably that is not the case – Stirling Council alone have turned down 34. There is a real concern that some councils may be holding back on processing applications which may then be refused due to neighbour objections.
Elsewhere, City of Edinburgh Council have repeatedly stated that there were 12,000 STLs but just 36 secondary lets have had their application approved. With just 1,811 self-catering businesses in Edinburgh on non-domestic rates, it should be noted that there are 240,000 dwellings in Edinburgh, over 9,000 of which are empty homes.
For those businesses who have decided to close due to the regulatory burden, it is unclear whether owners have decided to sell up, keep their property, or leave to family or friends. This will exacerbate the problem of second homes in many communities which do not offer anywhere near the same level of economic benefit as self-catering. Previous survey work from the ASSC has indicated that 96% of those asked did not believe their property would be available as affordable housing.
The Scottish Government has committed to hold a ‘implementation review update’ on licensing in the new year.
Fiona Campbell, CEO of the Association of Scotland’s Self-Caterers, said:
“With just a fraction of applications granted so far, this is a concerning yet predictable start to the new licensing regime. Having been forced to pay significant non-refundable fees to continue to operate under the same health and safety regulatory regime which legitimate businesses have always complied with, small businesses throughout Scotland face an anxious wait simply to continue what they’ve been doing for years without issue.
Many operators will have left the market before now due to the regulatory burden. Their properties are not what can be deemed affordable so those who argued a reduction of short-term lets would ease housing challenges are sadly mistaken. In fact, the problem of second homes is likely to be exacerbated, meaning a loss of valuable tourist accommodation for no discernible benefit.
The Scottish Government need to make good on their promise for a full review in the New Year so we can determine just how much damage has been inflicted upon Scotland’s £1bn self-catering industry. The Titanic has now hit the iceberg. We now need to save as many as we can from this vital sector.”