Today at the Tory Conference, Business Minister Matthew Hancock MP launched an "Independent Review" into the so-called "Sharing Economy".
The "sharing economy" from a B&B perspective means 'spare room' websites such as Airbnb, Wimdu, OneFineStay, HouseTrip etc., to whom sleepy regulators have so far handed a complete "opt-out" from the regulations that apply to us all and which are enforced against B&Bs like our members, whilst their (sometimes bigger) competitors are unregulated and bear no compliance costs, as long as they are selling using the "sharing economy" business model.
The "Independent Review" will be conducted by Debbie Wosskow, the CEO of LoveHomeSwap.com, a commercial player in the - er - "sharing economy". (I'm not making this up.)
We welcome the fact that a review is taking place at last - and hope it will prove itself independent by its thoughts and actions.
The objectives of the Review include (the emphases are mine):
We at the Bed and Breakfast Association are already in touch with the review team at BIS, the Business Department, and will be giving them our evidence about the regulatory failures in our sector that have led to the current two-tier, anti-competitive situation that so many of our members are suffering from.
Our aim, as always, it to try to ensure we can achieve sensible, proportionate, light-touch regulation for micro-businesses, applied fairly and consistency in a way that does not favour or disadvantage any particular business model.
That is certainly not the case at present: earlier this month, B&B owners Sally and Simon in Leicestershire, who had let two bedrooms in their family home on a B&B basis for about 25 days a year, were closed down by the Leicestershire Fire & Rescue Authority after a spot inspection. Yet Leicestershire - like all other Fire Authorities we have heard from (including the London Fire Brigade) make NO inspections at all of the many thousands of properties sold to paying guests on a B&B basis on "sharing economy" websites.
Of course, if Sally and Simon had opted for the "sharing economy" business model, they would still be taking paying guests today, tomorrow, next month and next year - because they would never have been visited or inspected.
Is that a fair or sensible situation? No, we don't think so either.
And in case you're thinking that this is a minor issue, Airbnb alone now have over 35,000 listings in the UK (compared to 25,000 B&Bs), and have grown 73% in the last 12 months here.
The review team will certainly have their work cut out - and we will do our best to help them understand and get to grips with these issues, for the sake of guests, our businesses, and the reputation of British tourism and hospitality.