The Whitby guest house forced out of business by Airbnb ‘racket’ – Andrew Vine

I DISCOVERED at the weekend that the Whitby guest house where I have spent many a happy break, both winter and summer, is no more.

When I phoned to ask about booking a few days after the schools go back next month, its owners told me that they have, regretfully, taken the decision to close and move on.

The pandemic is partly to blame, preventing too many other regulars besides myself from staying for the best part of 18 months, but there is another factor – an explosion in the number of second homes being rented out on Airbnb

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The upshot is a couple who have worked hard to build up a business, paid the rates and taxes required of them, and provided an exemplary level of customer service that kept guests returning year after year have felt no option but to give up.

Does the Airbnb phenomenon need better regulation as popular guest houses go out of business? Columnist Andrew Vine believes the Inland Revenue should intervene.

Meanwhile, the income that provided their living is going instead into the back pockets of people wealthy enough to own properties where they don’t actually live, and I’d bet my own house that the bulk of it is never declared to the taxman.

It is nothing short of scandalous that legitimate businesses like this guest house are going under because what amounts to an underground economy is hollowing out their livelihoods.

And it is part of the seriously damaging effect that the proliferation of second homes is having on our region, especially in North Yorkshire.

Communities along with livelihoods are being hollowed out by properties that stand empty for months in every year – or are being used to cash in on the staycation boom that restrictions on foreign travel has sparked.

Does the Airbnb phenomenon need better regulation as popular guest houses go out of business? Columnist Andrew Vine believes the Inland Revenue should intervene.

They aggravate a shortage of housing in rural areas, especially properties affordable for the young who have no option but to move away in order to find somewhere to live. This is draining the vitality of too many places, as well as making it even harder for owners of legitimate holiday accommodation to make a living.

North and East Yorkshire businesses that rely on tourism, especially at the coast, have taken an almighty hammering because of Covid. Besides my favourite Whitby guest house, I know others in Scarborough and Bridlington which have hung on by the skin of their teeth as their income collapsed because of lockdowns and bans on staying overnight

Against such a backdrop, it is intolerable that they should face unfair competition from Airbnb properties undercutting prices and mostly contributing nothing to the Exchequer that has provided support for small businesses.

If this continues unchecked, it could create a crisis for many Yorkshire tourism businesses – especially small independents like guest houses run by couples – as well as rural towns and villages.

Does the Airbnb phenomenon need better regulation as popular guest houses go out of business? Columnist Andrew Vine believes the Inland Revenue should intervene.

We need only look to the south of the country to see what could all too easily happen here. Last week, the local authority in Salcombe, in Devon, announced that it was considering banning the sale of properties as second homes because the town is running perilously short of places for local people to live.

And more than a quarter of properties in Cornwall are now second homes, creating such pressure on the stock of housing that junior doctors being recruited to work at local hospitals cannot find accommodation to rent within 30 miles. Things have become so bad, with NHS staff resorting to living in caravans because there is nowhere else for them to go, that the Bishop of Truro spoke out last month on the devastating effect second-home ownership is having on communities.

It is unthinkable that North Yorkshire should go the same way, but a cursory glance at Airbnb shows a proliferation of properties on offer. That means increased competition for hotels and guest houses and these properties being unavailable as homes for the people who we rely on to run our hospitals, care homes or schools.

We can’t just drift into allowing this to continue. Last month, the North Yorkshire Rural Commission called for powers to levy a charge on second homes as part of its wide-ranging report. That needs to happen, for the sake of towns and villages where the young cannot afford to live, but action by the regional authorities is not enough.

It is time for a crackdown on the whole Airbnb phenomenon which is a licence to print untaxed money for second-home owners. The Government needs to give the Inland Revenue the means to track down the owners of rental properties and ensure they are paying tax and business rates on what they are earning. That may convince many to think again about undercutting people whose livelihoods depend on visitors, and instead of turning a profit by exploiting the holiday market, make properties available for those who need somewhere to live.

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