Killing with kindness or for commercial gain?

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While waiting for the publication of the consultation on statutory registration of accommodation provision in England, I thought I would share with colleagues my most recent exposure to the absurdities and contradictions of the current enforcement of accommodation related regulation within in England.

I don’t want to pre judge the long awaited DCMS consultation. However, we are anticipating a, “here’s what we think the option, or options should be” appropriate. We are also expecting whatever is proposed to lean towards a very light touch, industry guided (i.e., providers), low-cost option. Given what we are learning much more over time about some of the longer-term consequences of well-intended, light touch regulation, there is perhaps a real danger it may turn out to be a bit of an unwelcome faff for the majority of good operators and utterly ineffectual against the small but dangerous and highly damaging minority of cowboys, rogues and rotter’s.

Having waited over 50 years for the original 1969 provision to be enacted, 60 since we have our first record of it being proposed, a damp squid of a solution now would be a totally wasted opportunity. Especially if you accept that history clearly suggests that whatever is or isn’t adopted now, will not then be adjust or revisited for at least 10 years and probably much, much longer.

So, what else has just happened? HMG have recently decided that potential endangering, if not accidentally killing refugees fleeing conflict Ukraine in the well-intended rush of human kindness to house as many as possible as quickly as possible can’t possibly be countenanced. Consequently, and quite rightly, all those wishing to offer either rooms or full properties under the Homes for Ukraine scheme are being advised on what the minimum standards they must achieve are and, critically, what mandatory safety provisions must be met including: current gas safe certification, smoke or fire alarms and CO monitors where appropriate.

Quite rightly in turn, local authorities, as the delivery bodies in England, are mandated and critically enabled, via the provision of the basic information on who what and where, to check that these minimum safety standards are being reached, before they accept owners into the scheme. Delays in obtaining gas safe certificates and/or a reluctance on the part of some potential hosts to pay for the necessary inspections and alarms etc., is causing additional delays. In some quarters it is also generating some fairly predictable disquiet about, “red tape” and “jobsworth officialdom” arguably from among those who would be equally vocal about any failures to enforce and who would probably be first in line to demand the take away the job of the “jobsworth”.

Meanwhile, the self-same properties can be readily let commercially and internationally promoted as holiday accommodation to a Ukrainian or indeed any other visitors with nothing more arduous than the completion of a simple self-assessment, online form. Failure to declare a critical piece of safety information will at worst, dependant on the platform used, result in the icon for that item being crossed through on the list of facilities. The platforms promoting this accommodation take absolutely no responsibility or will not accept any liability for the owner’s failure to meet any mandated legal, regulatory or other standard. There is currently also no practical way for local authorities or other statutory bodies, like the fire service, to identifying where properties are being commercially let or by whom on such platforms, unless they care to individually book them to obtain their address detail. Therefore regulators and enforcement agencies have no realistic means of checking that matters like planning regulations, health, food hygiene, fire, gas or electrical safety standards are being adequately addressed.

It seems to me to be a little absurd that at this point in time apparently one part of HMG with a responsibility for housing can in an international crisis, readily and rightly recognise that potentially taking any risk that might effectively “kill with kindness” can’t possibly be countenanced. While another with the longstanding responsibility for tourism continues to procrastinate about allowing many of the same risks but on a vastly larger scale and all in the name of commercial gain and the perceived need to promote new disruptive technologies, regardless of the increasingly obvious and real risk this approach fosters.

Surely it is well past time to protect the lives and wellbeing of consumers, paying or otherwise, and in doing so protect the reputation of all parts the UK tourism accommodation industry? I look forward to seeing DCMS’s hopefully robust and practical proposals to achieve just that.

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