WTA, by invitation only, was called to attend two consultation sessions during the week commencing the 21st and 23rd May to discuss Welsh Government proposals for a Statutory Licensing Scheme for Visitor Accommodation Providers which will have far reaching effects for our sector.
Both Suzy Davies, Chair and Adrian Greason-Walker, Policy Advisor attended the sessions for maximum coverage. Generally, the meetings whilst convivial and professional were at times somewhat heated, with the private sector participants fairly much unanimous against the proposal for a licensing scheme and at best in favour of a light touch registration scheme based on the principles of self-assessment. We cited on several occasions the appalling misuse of the Licensing System in Scotland where they simply do not issue them and where they do some have been astronomically expensive.
We also conveyed our concerns over our ability, as a sector, to be able to trust the Welsh Government to deliver a scheme, given the driving through of the 182-day threshold despite PASC UK’s, the WTA and UKH’s evidence against the now enacted proposal.
Level of fees to be charged and frequency of renewal: These were areas where there was a great deal of discussion, from - there should be no fees charged at all, to a sliding scale (i.e., larger hotels and static sites should pay more). As regards frequency it was generally agreed that that this should be a rolling annual scheme, although other suggestions as to frequency were discussed.
Enforcement and level of penalties of non-compliance; as was discussed in our member’s meeting this would need to be proportionate with a period of grace to rectify an issue for an error (rather than a deliberate act to deceive). If unrectified, then a fine would follow and a raising of the level of fine for subsequent failures.
One area we do have to keep an eye on is the need for a fit and proper person test in order to potentially obtain a licence. This originates from the existing ‘Rent Smart Wales’ scheme as long term let landlords need to an F&P test in order to meet their legal obligations under the Housing (Wales) Acts 2014 & 2016. Whilst we would not oppose checks for criminal records or DBS check, we feel anything further would be heavy handed and potentially have far reaching impacts on self-catering business owners and managers. We both asked how many respondents to the Consultation actually thought this was a good idea and what evidence the Welsh Govt have that shows a need for it.
It was also noted that there was a great deal of concern from the local authorities present that they simply did not have the resources to manage or police the scheme without further resource being applied centrally. Obviously, this would all depend on the final size and scope of any scheme. If the scheme was to be self-funding that would have clear consequences for the level of fees charged.
In conclusion, whilst early days, from these discussions at least, it would seem that the Welsh Government is erring toward a light touch centrally managed scheme – probably best described at this stage as a ‘licensing-lite’. We still urge caution as we know once started, statute is rarely retracted, indeed we usually witness and have to deal with the converse.