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It’s time for rules on short-term lets

Platforms like Airbnb enable everyday people to supplement their income – but the activity needs regulation.

By Amanda Cupples

As the cost of living continues to rise, many people are looking to hosting on Airbnb to supplement their income.

Today, the vast majority of UK Hosts share one listing, and more than a third say the additional income helps them make ends meet and afford rising living costs, according to a survey of more than 10,000 UK Hosts and guests on Airbnb. Put simply, the opportunity for families to flexibly share their homes – typically their greatest expense – is helping many to continue to afford them.

Most Hosts on Airbnb are everyday people and for many, home-sharing is a chance to open a space in their primary residence to guests while they’re away. It provides an opportunity to make some extra income from major events taking place in their community – like the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham or Cop26 in Glasgow.

In 2019, Hosts and guests on Airbnb contributed £5.1bn to the UK economy, according to a report by BiGGAR Economics, and economic activity generated by Hosts in England in 2019 supported over 65,000 jobs. That means real-world benefits for families, and more jobs in the places that need them, ultimately helping communities to directly benefit from tourism.

But Airbnb recognises the vital need for regulation. We have been calling for rules for some time, including publishing our own proposals in 2021. We want to work with communities and believe local authorities should have the tools to tackle concerns in their area, including where short-term lets play a role. But to avoid negatively impacting hard-working families who occasionally share space in their homes to mitigate the rising cost of living, any new rules should be targeted and need to be based on accurate data.

We welcome the government’s intention to create a register of short-term lets, as this will provide the important evidence base that is often missing in this discussion, giving local authorities the clear picture of activity they need to support tourism and protect housing. 

Catherine Sutherland. Photo by Airbnb.

Catherine Sutherland began hosting on Airbnb years ago, when she needed extra money after her roommate moved out of their flat in Inverness. When she settled in Edinburgh, she converted her loft into her own space, and listed two bedrooms for guests.

“Without Airbnb, I would lose an important source of income and that would impact me massively,” she says. “I don’t know what I would do going forward.”

Sutherland lives alone and enjoys the social connections that hosting provides. Every guest that comes through her door is greeted by her personally, usually with tea and always with a friendly chat.

“The best thing about hosting on Airbnb is the people I meet from all over the world,” says Sutherland. “It’s particularly important to me because I live on my own.”

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