Housing

Concern grows that rise in holiday lets is depriving communities of much-needed housing

With a sharp rise in short term holiday lets, housing in some areas is becoming increasingly scarce.

The rooftops and sandy beaches of St Ives in Cornwall are set against the blue background of the sea

St Ives in Cornwall is a popular holiday destination, but there are currently no properties available to rent, according to Rightmove, and almost 1,500 holiday lets. Image: Jon Connell/Flickr

As the short-term holiday market continues to boom in Britain, the government has launched a review into the impact holiday lets are having on available housing in England’s tourist towns.

The number of holiday lets in England has risen by 40 per cent in the last three years, with North Devon, the Cotswolds, Scarborough and the Isle of Wight, particularly affected.

“Holiday let sites like Airbnb have helped boost tourism across the country, but we need to make sure this doesn’t drive residents out of their communities,” said housing minister Stuart Andrew.

While the review will also cover safety measures and the tourism impact of holiday rentals, it is the impact on communities which continues to cause concern.

Analysis by the BBC of short-term lets in 152 individual council areas across England found that the number of holiday lets has increased from 19,543 in 2018 to 27,424 in 2021, driven by online marketplaces for shared lodging and holiday accommodation.

Between April 2016 and May 2019, the number of active listings on Airbnb tripled across the UK, rising from 76,000 available lets to 225,000. So prevalent has Airbnb become in Britain, that in some areas of the country the number of holiday lets are far outstripping the available rentals. In the popular tourist spot of St Ives in Cornwall there are currently no properties to rent on Rightmove, but more than 1,000 holiday lets on Airbnb.

Jayne Kirkham, a prospective parliamentary candidate for Labour in Truro and Falmouth, says finding truly affordable housing in Cornwall feels like an “intractable problem.”

Kirkham, who is working on a ‘First Homes Not Second Homes’ campaign, says the rising number of Airbnbs, holiday lets, second homes and in some areas houses converted to student lets, has put intense pressure on the private rented sector in Cornwall.

“Add to this an under-provision of council/social housing and a dire shortage of temporary and emergency accommodation and it’s become a housing crisis,” she said

The Truro and Falmouth CLP told the Big Issue that in Cornwall, there are 700 families in emergency accommodation, many because of sales or transfers to Airbnbs and holiday lets. 

A loophole, says Kirkham, is enabling people who register their second homes as a business if they are available to holiday let for a minimum period, pay no council tax or business rates.

“We also suffer from a huge deficit in emergency housing. When people become homeless because they’re evicted from their private rented accommodation so the owners can Airbnb it, or sell it at the top of the market, where do they go?” she asks.  

Acorn, a union which campaigns for a fairer deal for communities, also recognises the “devastating” impact the rise in short-term holiday lettings is having on many communities in Britain. The community action group is calling on decision makers to halt and reverse the destructive effects short-term lets are having on communities and the housing sector. 

Announcing a 12-point policy plan on holiday lets, Acorn said holiday lets have created a lack of long-term residents in some areas of Cornwall and Wales, leading to “businesses closing down, schools struggling to get funding and NHS staffing crises”. 

“Members have reported feelings of isolation with neighbours being forced to move away,” the statement continued. ”Other members have reported that living next door to holiday lets has seriously impacted their quality of life.”

The policies include supporting the mandatory registration of all entire-home holiday lets and owners onto a national database with the ability for local councils to submit reports. The group also supports a cap on the number of properties an individual/business can let out on a short term basis, and that all holiday lets pay a higher rate of council tax.

Responding to the publication of the government’s review, Ben Beadle, chief executive of the National Residential Landlords Association, said “finding a long-term home to rent is all but impossible” in some areas with high rates of holiday lets”. 

“With demand for such housing at a record high, all it is doing is increasing rents when tenants can least afford it.”

For its part, the government recognises some of the challenges. 

Announcing the review, the department for levelling up, housing and communities said the government “understands there can be an impact on housing supply and price in these areas and there are fears caused by evidence of a rise in anti-social behaviour including noise, waste and drunken behaviour in local communities”.

The call for evidence will run for 12 weeks, until mid-September, and the government “wants to hear the views of all parties, including hosts, online platforms, accommodation businesses and local authorities”.

Have your say on the government website.

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