A step towards a “level playing field”

The double standards of regulators to B&Bs vs Airbnb are finally being addressed, says David Weston, chairman of the B&B Association

One of the (many) reasons the B&B Association was formed back in early 2006 was the fact that the fire regulations had radically changed in 2005. “Fire Certificates” had been abolished, and everyone taking paying guests – even in one room, for one night – now had to comply with the fire regulations. Step one was being aware of the change, and step two was understanding the new requirements.

Since then it has been a key part of our role to help B&B owners new and old-established to understand and navigate the fire regulations and other rules. In 2008 we were invited by the Government tom help them make the official guidance document (“Do you have paying guests?” as useful and user-friendly as possible.

Meanwhile we were also pressing the Fire & Rescue Authorities (FRAs) to use a proportional, consistent and common-sense approach to how they enforced the 2005 law. After some ups and downs, this has improved gradually over the years. Whenever we queried why a very tiny premises were being required to put an in expensive fire alarm system, for instance, we were always told that the same rules applied to everybody – we were “all in the same boat”.

Not so: from 2012, the exponential growth of “peer-to-peer” sites like Airbnb has proved that (in practice) there is one rule for us, and another for them. While a two-bedroom B&B was being visited by a fire officer and told they “must” spend many hundreds (or thousands) of pounds on a wired “LD2” fire alarm system with a central control panel, their identical neighbour letting two bedrooms through Airbnb was never visited, and was told by Airbnb (who never checked what they did) that battery smoke detectors were all they needed to fit.

These double standards are highly unfair, anti-competitive and of course, potentially lethal. Our efforts in this area since 2012 have been focused on levelling the playing-field for our members, and protecting all guests, whatever type of business they choose to book with.

After years of meetings, lobbying, and dialogue, we’re delighted that there do finally seem to be signs of real progress towards that fabled “level playing-field”. The long-overdue review of that 2008 official guidance is now well underway, and as we urged, the initial separate consultations by Government have now been brought together into one process. So on Monday 9th September we sat down with Airbnb and their trade association (the UKSTAA) as well as the other trade bodies representing hotels, self-catering, pubs and others, to thrash out the new official guidance which will apply to all small accommodation providers. That meeting was hosted by the National Fire Chiefs’ Council, the Home Office and DCMS (the tourism department).

It is still early days, but we were pleased with progress so far. The new guidance is due to be published next Spring, and we hope it will (a) level the playing-field and apply the same rules to similar sized accommodation, regardless of business model, and (b) reduce the costs of compliance for the smallest accommodation providers.