B&B Blog

News and updates from the Bed & Breakfast Association

Thursday 4 December 2014

New, easier alcohol Licensing for B&Bs: have your say by 9th December

The B&B Association has been involved in talks with the Home Office for about a year now about moves (which we have been pushing for) to introduce a new, easier, cheaper, less onerous method of alcohol licensing for small B&Bs (and for other businesses where alcohol is sold “ancillary to” their main business) in England and Wales. The Home Office have an online consultation, closing on 9 December – and we urge all members to respond to it – see below.

Lynne Featherstone, Minister of State for Crime Prevention, says:
“The Government is committed to reducing the unnecessary burdens on responsible businesses. Small businesses have told us that the existing licensing requirements are heavy handed for those who want to sell small amounts of alcohol as part of a wider service. For example, small bed and breakfasts wishing to provide a welcome drink to guests must be at present licensed in the same way as a large hotel with a public bar.”
“We want to free up the police and local enforcement agencies to concentrate on the premises that are causing alcohol harms. The Community and Ancillary seller’s Notice (CAN) will allow such particular low-risk businesses and community groups to sell a small amount of alcohol, while providing appropriate, light-touch controls.”

The 'small print'  of the CAN conditions applicable to B&Bs are:
The CAN will be authorised for 36 months; alcohol may be sold between 7am and 11pm from a single named premises, for consumption on the named premises; notice will be given to the licensing authority; the prescribed fee will be paid; Police, Environmental Health Authority and licensing authority can object if a CAN will undermine the licensing objectives, with the result that the CAN may be revoked. Police and licensing authority officers will have rights of entry to investigate where users are in breach of the CAN conditions.
No right to a hearing or appeal if a CAN is revoked. The sale of alcohol must be “ancillary to” the provision of goods or services by the business.

Key Consultation Questions (and our recommended answers in green):

Question 1: what size of accommodation do you think should be determined a “small accommodation provider” for the purpose of the CAN?
a) An accommodation provider with up to five bed spaces
b) An accommodation provider with up to ten bed spaces
The Association recommends answer (c):
c) An accommodation provider with up to fifteen bed spaces
d) An accommodation provider with up to twenty bed spaces
e) Don’t know

A key principle of the CAN is that the sale of alcohol must be ancillary to the provision of services on the premises. The quantity of alcohol allowed to be sold under a CAN will be set out in the regulations, specifying any particular circumstances which may apply. For example, it may be permitted to offer a couple staying overnight in a B&B a bottle of wine in their room.

Question 2: how much alcohol do you think should be allowed to be sold by ancillary sellers under a CAN, per guest, in a 24 hour period?

a) Up to 2units (eg a small 125ml glass of wine; a pint of 3.5% ABV of beer; a 330ml bottle of 4% ABV lager; one double measure of spirits)
b) Up to 3 units (e.g. a large 250ml glass of wine; two 330ml bottles of 4% ABV lager; a pint of 5% ABV beer)
c) Up to 5 units (e.g. a 750ml bottle of 13% ABV wine between two people or a 250ml bottle of spirits between two people)
The Association recommends answer (d):
d) More than 5 units (e.g. allowing a bottle of wine between two people in a room plus an additional glass of wine with a meal)
e) Don’t know

Information about the consultation is at:

The consultation survey questions can be found at the following link (closes at 23.45 on 9th December):

Monday 29 September 2014

Government launches "Independent Review" of the "Sharing Economy"

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):

  • to explore the potential benefits of the sharing economy to the UK, as well as any risks it may pose
  • to investigate the main regulatory and policy issues from the perspective of consumers, sharing economy businesses, and established businesses
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.

Thursday 30 January 2014

Spare room "sharing" websites: a ticking time bomb?

The website Airbnb, which allows home-owners to sell their spare bedrooms to paying guests on a B&B basis, boasted this week to be contributing £502 million to the UK economy, and to have "supported nearly 12,000 jobs" in the UK last year. Really? If much of this £502m was taken from 'bona fide' B&Bs and hotels, then there would have been a net loss in livelihoods "supported". And that is before mentioning the very serious questions about insurance, fire safety, and tax that hang over this subject unanswered. 

Members tell us they are concerned about unfair competition from home-owners selling their spare bedrooms on a "B&B" basis to paying guests through websites such as Airbnb, Wimdu, One Fine Stay and others.

What many see is that there is one rule for us, and one for Airbnb users (ie, no rules).

These websites are like those music and film "file-sharing" sites that may have kept within the letter of the law themselves, but only existed (and grew lucratively) because 99% of their users broke the law. The "file sharing" sites came close to crippling the music industry, costing it billions. Is the hospitality industry next?

Airbnb hosts are almost all (it seems) without public liability insurance, and non-compliant with fire reguations, food hygiene laws, planning regulations etc. - which even our smallest members, as bona fide B&Bs, must comply with, sometimes at disproportionate expense.

That is not even to mention whether the hosts pay tax. And while we are on that subject, could Airbnb explain how much corporation tax they themselves pay in the UK on that £502m of sales they say they make here? Our research so far seems to indicate that the answer is "none", because sales are booked to US parent company Airbnb Inc., rather than Airbnb UK Ltd. which - it seems - is loss-making (though full accounts are not available to the public).

These websites (like the file-sharers) are companies that only exist because law and enforcement have not kept up with technology.

We are only asking for a level playing-field: either these regulations should not apply to ANY very small B&B (for example, by exempting properties with up to three letting bedrooms), OR they must be applied fairly and proportionately to all: to Airbnb hosts as well as "bone fide" B&Bs. 

The worst of all worlds is what we have now: established, visible B&Bs with even one or two rooms have to comply (often at great expense), whilst their neighbour who offers two or three B&B rooms through Airbnb, Wimdu or whatever is untroubled by any regulators and can pocket the compliance costs his neighbour is bearing. In this, the law (currently) is an ass.

Is this a "ticking time bomb"? Many thousands of guests are staying with "hosts" booked through a website, where the host may not have public liability cover, and may not reach the fire safety standards the law requires for paying guests.

Likewise many "hosts" using Wimdu, Airbnb etc. may be blissfully unaware - until disaster strikes - that their household insurance may be invalid and their mortgage terms breached by taking paying guests.

Airbnb's CEO, Brian Chesky, has claimed "we would love to be regulated - we want fair regulation": does he mean it? 

Will our sleepy regulators wake up and do their jobs? If not, established B&Bs will continue to be damaged by unfair competition, and suffer the burden of compliance with regulations that are NOT applied to their neighbours.

This is an issue we are pursuing vigorously with regulators, with the media - and with the websites themselves.  Watch this space!