Scale of isles short-term lets sector now emerges
In a late burst of activity, over 400 applications were received by Comhairle nan Eilean Siar in September, with 200 in the last week alone, as the legal deadline closed in.
The controversial legislation has been strongly contested by accommodation providers who believe many will give up rather than meet the expense of registration and conditions that accompany it.
However, it seems most “hosts” in the Western Isles have followed advice to register though many applications are still at the pending stage with conditions to be met.
The figures reveal the extent of “"secondary letting" throughout the islands, defined by the Scottish Government as “ the letting of property where you do not normally live, for example a second home”.
There were 812 “secondary letting” applications including 418 in Lewis, 171 in Harris, 169 in Uist and 54 in Barra. Within Lewis, 142 are in the two Stornoway council wards and 98 in Sgir Uige agus Carlabhagh ward.
This confirms there are disproportionate numbers of holiday lets in scenic areas like Uig, Harris and Barra where there are also acute housing shortages.
By comparison, there are only 139 applications between the other two categories defined as “'you let out all or part of your own home both while you are living there and also at times when you're not there”. This includes the B&B sector.
Seventy are in Lewis; 22 in Harris; 35 in Uist and 12 in Barra. Within Lewis, 28 are in the two Stornoway wards while South Uist seems to be another B&B stronghold with 24 registrations from Benbecula to Eriskay.
Registration requirements have created a boom for electricians and plumbers as property owners aim to meet conditions. Comhairle officials encouraged incomplete applications, then helped operators to understand and meet requirements.
While it is illegal to operate an accommodation business without having applied to register, enforcement will not take effect until the process is complete. In the Western Isles, it is expected that this will be achieved for all properties by March next year..
Sara Maclean, chief executive of Outer Hebrides Tourism, said it was “an amazing compliance rate” and she was glad accommodation providers had taken the advice to register despite the costs and concerns that exist.
“Although it’s contentious, in a couple of years time it will be taken for granted. As a tourism organisation, it will be a very useful tool to know exactly who and where providers are. We acknowledge the teething problems but it will stand us in good stead”.
Meanwhile, Fiona Campbell, chief executive of the Association of Scottish Self Caterers, dismissed a claim by the Housing Minister, Paul Maclennan, that the legislation was always about “safety” rather than accommodation shortages.
Ms Campbell said: “There are no new standards being required for our sector. Health and safety is already legislated for and all responsible hosts already comply with the standards”.