Relax rules for Airbnb and other 'sharing economy' firms
Sharing startup CEO calls for more support for accommodation and skill-sharing services, and ‘kitemark’ for responsible companies
A government-commissioned review has called for the UK to do more to support “sharing economy” businesses like Airbnb and TaskRabbit, including relaxing regulations.
The Unlocking the Sharing Economy review was commissioned in late September by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. Although independent, it was led by Debbie Wosskow, chief executive of sharing economy startup Love Home Swap.
Her report makes more than 30 recommendations on the sharing economy sector, which includes businesses based on people sharing assets, resources, time and/or skills, from renting out spare rooms and sharing car rides to peer-to-peer finance.
The review calls for a startup incubator and innovation lab for British companies in this field; asks that Jobcentre staff promote sharing economy platforms to jobseekers; and suggests more carpooling lanes in high congestion areas.
The nature of Wosskow’s business – a site that helps people rent their homes out to holidaymakers – may spark debate about her review’s call for relaxed regulation on companies operating in the accommodation market, though.
The report calls for “fair terms of entry to the accommodation market” and suggests that “someone renting out a spare room for a few nights is not subject to the same level of regulation as a business renting out 100 rooms all year-round”.
Perhaps anticipating controversy, the report stresses that Wosskow’s review took evidence from more than 1,000 people, and that she met with more than 100 stakeholders, including the British Hospitality Association and the B&B Association.
The review also sets out plans for “clear minimum standards” for health and safety for people renting out rooms or homes, from working smoke alarms to escape-plan details, and calls for “egregious breaches of regulation” including not complying with tax requirements to be “dealt with firmly”.
Wosskow also suggests the creation of a trade body for sharing economy companies, which would lobby government on their behalf, but also establish a kitemark for “responsible” sharing platforms, including setting minimum standards for resolving disputes and respecting users’ privacy.
The review also calls for skill-sharing platforms to ensure workers are paid at least the living wage, but suggests that platforms “which play a passive role in matching users” should not be classed as employment businesses or agencies, and thus should be subject to lighter regulation.
One of the report’s most ambitious recommendations is its suggestion for a pilot “sharing city” in the UK “where transport, shared office space, accommodation and skills networks are joined together and residents are encouraged to share as part of their daily lives”.
The review cites research from PwC claiming that five key sectors of the sharing economy will be worth £500m in the UK in 2014, but that this could rise to £9bn by 2025.
However, one of those five sectors is streaming music and video, which sits somewhat awkwardly alongside the other four: peer-to-peer finance, online staffing, accommodation and car sharing. Music and video are not included in Wosskow’s report.
“From car-pooling to shared office space, the sharing economy sector is undoubtedly coming of age and we hope that today’s recommendations will allow the UK Government to both fully embrace and correctly regulate this space, as there is a great opportunity here for the UK to be at the forefront of the global sharing economy,” said Wosskow.
Business, enterprise and energy minister Matthew Hancock said the government will respond to the review “in due course”, but promised support for the companies it covers.
“We will back the innovators, challengers and agitators nationwide who are tearing up traditional business models and creating new jobs across the country,” said Hancock.