According to official data obtained by Green Party Councillor, Clare Turnbull, Canterbury City Council could be missing out on more than £400,000 of revenue because hundreds of Airbnb and holiday lets in Whitstable are not registered for Council Tax and don’t pay Business Rates either.
This shocking revelation was discovered by Canterbury District Green Party activists from a survey of online government data and a Freedom of Information request to the Valuation Office Agency (VOA).
“These are rough calculations based on official data but the implications are alarming at a time when vital local services are being starved of funds,” says Councillor Turnbull.
Councillor Turnbull recently published a full report on a public survey about the impact of holiday lets in Whitstable (following) which revealed widespread public concern. This led to her filing an official motion at Council on 12 October asking for an investigation into what other towns in the UK were doing to better manage Airbnbs. She says the serious concerns of Whitstable residents which she raised were “just brushed aside” by Council leaders.
“I am disappointed by the Council leader’s indifference which is letting down the residents of Whitstable who are genuinely disturbed by the impact of Airbnbs in the town,” says Councillor Turnbull.
Councillor Turnbull and her Green Party colleagues consulted the government’s Business Rates registrations data which revealed that 243 addresses in the CT5 postcode are registered for Business Rates as self-catering holiday homes instead of Council Tax but they are also rated at under £12,000 so under current rules, are exempt from Business Rates too.
“The rules are quite complicated because only the first registered holiday home qualifies for business rates relief and a few properties are clearly part of larger businesses but the data clearly indicates that currently many Airbnb properties pay nothing for their local services,” says Councillor Turnbull.
Further FOI enquiries by Canterbury District Green Party to the Valuation Office Agency (VOA) revealed that between 2010 and March 2022, 120 domestic properties in the CT5 postcode deregistered from Council Tax.
If all the 243 registered holiday lets in CT5 currently not paying Council tax or Business Rates were all paying the average Council Tax Band D, it would equate to £485,492 in annual revenue for vital local services.
“This data strongly indicates that Canterbury City Council may be missing out on significant Council Tax funds due to many holiday lets paying no local tax and this deserves a full investigation,” says Councillor Turnbull.
Data obtained from: https://www.tax.service.gov.uk/business-rates-find/list-properties
FOI letter dated 22 September 2022 from VOA
Further information at: https://canterburydistrict.greenparty.org.uk/ or contact your local
Green Party press officer on 07921 377955 or email@example.com
Report: What are the impacts of Airbnb and holiday lets on your community?
Report of an Online Consultation for
Councillor Clare Turnbull
Gorrell, Whitstable ward, Canterbury City Council
This survey was created by the Canterbury District Green Party on behalf of Councillor Clare Turnbull, Canterbury City Councillor for Gorrell, Whitstable. It was made available to Whitstable residents online in September 2022. The aim was to ask residents for their views on the impact – positive and negative – that the proliferation of short-term holiday lets and Airbnbs was having on Whitstable in order to collect evidence for a government consultation into possible national registration of short-term holiday lets. Councillor Turnbull’s response to the DCMS consultation is included at Annex A.
171 responses were received. Here is a breakdown of the respondents. Some respondents selected more than one of the categories.
The aim of this process was to address the impact so that we could inform the national consultation and also look at what, if anything, the local Council can do to help mitigate the impact. As well as this survey, we spoke to local estate agents and gathered information on regulation schemes which have already been put in place in the UK and other countries.
Throughout this process, we took care to make it clear that we were seeking the views of local people on the impact of this type of holiday let on local residents and the community and to acknowledge that not all impact was negative. We had a relatively small number of responses from people running short-term lets, but some of these were clearly concerned that a one-sided view would be put forward. Some also wanted to stress that they ran their let responsibly and took care to respect local people. We also accept the concerns from some short-term let owners that some of the issues raised cannot be conclusively linked to their visitors and are also caused by increased visitor numbers generally. However, many of the comments were from residents living alongside short-term rental properties and reflected their direct experience of this. We have aimed to reflect this lived experience in this report.
Almost two-thirds of respondents thought that there are positive impacts for Whitstable of short-term holiday lets/Airbnbs. Over half of those making comments here said that they recognise that short-term lets increase the tourist trade, which has economic benefits for local businesses, and respondents also acknowledged that the lets provide jobs and income for local people. Respondents note that visitors spend money in shops and restaurants and owners employ cleaners and local tradespeople to work on their properties. Some also comment that visitors bring life and energy into the town.
The vast majority of respondents had concerns about short-term holiday lets. The most frequently cited concern was about the impact on house prices and rental prices (46% of respondents). People cited the fact that both renting and buying a home locally had become too expensive for local people to be able to afford. The impact of this was stated to be that people were having to leave Whitstable to find a home, even when they wanted to stay in their local area around family and local schools.
The next, and particularly passionately expressed, concern was about loss of community (30% of responses). Residents stressed that they miss the community feel of knowing their neighbours and being able to look out for each other. Some also feel unsafe when the properties are left empty in the quieter months. Local people lament that neighbours have moved out, often driven away by the increase in noise and traffic resulting from the increased numbers of visitors, and houses have been bought up by non-residents, who then let them to visitors. The result of this is an ever-changing stream of people, who are in ‘holiday mode’, that is, do not behave as they would around their own home and do not respect the local area. Residents said that houses are mostly old, small and terraced and sound travels easily between them. 29% of respondents reported noise and antisocial behaviour related to short-term lets near their homes. They said that visitors are often keen to party, resulting in frequent excess noise and disrupted sleep – more than would be normal if people lived in the properties. What is more, respondents talk of the ‘stress’ of having to ask people to be quiet, and the impact on their mental health of living with the disruption.
Another concern was waste disposal (20% of responses). Residents report bags being left in the street on non-collection days, which is unsightly and also results in foxes and seagulls ripping open the bags and spreading rubbish around the neighbourhood. They don’t feel that property owners are taking full responsibility for managing this and the noise/disruptive behaviour.
In addition, an increase in visitors brings increased traffic on Whitstable’s narrow streets, and an impact on parking spaces, which are in short supply in the town. Residents reported that visitors sometimes park in residents’ parking areas, park inconsiderately across driveways and sometimes arrive in multiple vehicles. Some residents spoke about not wanting to go out because it’s so difficult to park.
Overall, it is fair to say that the majority of Whitstable residents who responded felt that there are too many short-term lets in Whitstable, and that the balance has shifted in a way that means it is no longer a lovely place to live with a strong sense of community in its narrow streets. They felt that the increase in the number of short-term-lets is hollowing out the town, taking away its distinctive character. They said that, whereas platforms such as Airbnb were devised to enable people to let out space in their own homes, more and more homes are being bought up by non-residents who run them as short-term lets and don’t properly monitor the behaviour of the people who rent them, with no regulations in place to oblige them to take responsibility for this. Residents were frustrated that they have to deal with the problems created, rather than the property owners dealing with them. Some residents reported high levels of stress related to inconsiderate short-term-let visitors, which is giving them concern over their health and wellbeing, and several were thinking of moving away.
Overwhelmingly, the respondents would support the introduction of regulations. However, the majority of respondents make it clear that what they are hoping for are regulations which:
- Provide a better balance between short-term lets and residential properties to help preserve a sense of community and affordable housing.
- Ensure that the Council receives the contributions it needs to provide essential services.
- Make owners accountable for the upkeep of properties to a good standard, for the behaviour of guests and for ensuring health and safety measures.
- Create a level playing field for all tourist accommodation.
- Preserve the initial aims of platforms that it should be easy to let out space in your own home.
- Give clarity about what constitutes a change of use from residential to business use.
There is also a lot of caution about what regulation might look like, with comments such as ‘it depends what it is’, basically wanting to avoid heavy-handed red tape, making sure that regulation is fit for purpose – practical and supportive – and achieves the aims above.
Clearly, a small minority of respondents were strongly opposed to any regulation, with comments stating, for example, that it is a matter of individual choice what to do with one’s property. It is important, therefore, to stress again that, as outlined above, respondents recognise the positive points of short-term lets and are in favour of proportionate regulation which supports the original purpose of platforms such as Airbnb, rather than draconian measures aimed at eradicating them.
Currently, Airbnbs and other short-term holiday lets do not have the same health and safety regulations as traditional forms of tourist accommodation, such as hotels and B&Bs.
Would you support the strengthening of health and safety regulations for Airbnbs? 171 responses.
Have you experienced any of the following issues which you believe to be related to short-term holiday lets/Airbnbs?
The issues listed above are often reported to Councillors as being a problem in the town. This question asks respondents to make a judgement about whether the issues they are experiencing are related to short-term holiday lets/Airbnbs. In the ‘other’ section of this question, some respondents pointed out that it cannot be proved that these problems are related to short-term lets – they could also be caused by day-trippers or locals. These respondents also commented that locals benefit from house price increases and that parking is an issue, anyway, because there is so little off-street parking in the town centre and permits are expensive.
Other problems which are reported include: dogs left in houses and barking; constant coming and going of people; interrupted sleep; obstructive parking; constant house renovations and the removal of trees/plants to create low maintenance gardens.
There are many comments, examples and anecdotes given here. Here is a selection:
‘The negative impact of short-term lets does not discriminate, irrespective of whether one is ideologically opposed to the concept of buying a house to let or not. We are all affected by the turnover, disruption, noise, rubbish, and general instability a short-term let can cause. Without even trying, I can count no fewer than 9 houses in my immediate vicinity which are being used solely for this purpose; I want to live in and as part of a community, and am genuinely fearful of its decline.’
‘It has got to the point where I have considered moving. I can rarely park near my home in the summer. It is utterly miserable on certain days. I have no problem with people enjoying themselves, but listening to parties from one weekend to the next is very wearing (during the week, too), particularly if you have to get up early for work and have had little sleep.’
‘Loud parties late at night, even on week nights, interrupting sleep before work. Neighbours and I have had to intervene at times. One incident with drunk Airbnb guests running into the street at night and smashing car wing mirrors, costing me hundreds of pounds in repairs. Unable to afford to stay in town long-term despite working here and having a household with two good incomes: houses in my area have often doubled in value in ten years, the past four years seeing the steepest rise as Airbnbs proliferate. Loss of nearly the entire rental market, making rental living incredibly precarious and more expensive. Loss of community as several properties lie empty outside of the holiday season. Build-up of rubbish on streets outside of the scheduled collection times, attracting foxes and flies. Significant increase in illegal parking, and significant strain on available parking spaces.’
‘I live on Albert Street, there are over 20 Airbnbs on our street. We are affected on a daily basis.’
‘We are a middle-aged family whose children have grown up. An end-of-life nurse in Pilgrims Hospice Canterbury and self-employed worker husband. We aren’t on the housing ladder any more. We are petrified that, once our let here comes naturally to an end, we will be unable to rent anywhere to live. We have seen there are hardly any long-time rentals and have heard it from other residents. The ones that are available are being fought over for rents that are shooting up so high with so many catches it’s getting ridiculous. God knows where we will live in a few years. We know of actual families buying up every available property they can purely to let out at the high rents they can achieve on Airbnb/ short-term let sites etc. Of course, people with spare money want to make more money if they can, why not…. But there has to be a ceiling on it all or the whole town will fall apart and where will local residents all be then?’
‘We had drunken groups of men crawling out of the window onto a fragile flat-roofed extension in the night, singing and chucking beer bottles in the garden. I raised issues with the landlord and council but there is no protection. We moved out of town.’
‘There are already a lot of second homes in our area which are used as holiday homes by the owners which I feel has a negative effect on the local community. Many of the new build houses are bought (or built) to be holiday homes or second homes not giving local people a chance to buy and stay in their local area and are unaffordable.’
‘This sector has to be regulated locally and nationally as a matter of urgency. The lack of regulation causes the gradual erosion of local communities in all their richness and diversity, as well as a gradual ghettoisation in areas seen as less appealing than Whitstable.’
And some comments from Airbnb owners:
‘Most Airbnb owners I know love Whitstable and support local business and bring money into the town. This is why we have invested here and spend time here. We are respectful of our neighbours and get on with them. We have rules to ensure guests are respectful. When I am in Whitstable I always eat out and spend money locally and promote local businesses on my Instagram account. I spend a fair amount of time here and let the property when I am not here so it is not empty.
Many older properties have been done up to let as holiday properties, improving areas and benefitting residents.
As many Airbnb owners are not in Whitstable full time and would not be able to attend a public meeting, their views may not be adequately represented. We are not the enemy!’
‘I’m a holiday home owner and, rather than leave it empty between my visits, I let it out. Creates employment and tourist trade in town.’
‘We bought a second home in Whitstable 12 years ago for our future retirement. We decided to Airbnb it on weekends only about 2 years ago post lockdown restrictions lifting. We restrict visits to couples only and have never had a complaint and they have always rated their stay as 5 stars. We pay tax on any income and our guests spend money in shops, bars and restaurants, as opposed to it being idle.’
Clare Turnbull Councillor for Gorrell, Whitstable, Canterbury City Council Green Party October 2022
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