SCOTLAND’S self-catering industry has been left “astonished” after ministers confirmed it will press ahead with introducing a licensing regime for Airbnb-style short term lets despite the Covid-19 pandemic.

Housing Minister Kevin Stewart confirmed he will lay secondary legislation before Holyrood before the end of the year, but he will extend the timescale for current hosts to apply for a licence until April 2023.

Landlords failing to obtain a licence could face a fine of up to £50,000.

If approved by Holyrood, the licensing scheme will come into force on 1 April 2021. But local authorities will have until 1 April 2022 to establish a scheme in their area and open it to receive applications, with existing hosts having until 1 April 2023 to apply.

READ MORE: Unlawful Airbnb hosts could face £50,000 fines under crackdown

Concerns have been raised that a high concentration of short term lets, particularly in Edinburgh have contributed to housing and rental prices spiraling out of control as well as fears over anti-social behaviour by visitors.

Mr Stewart said the proposals will “strike the right balance between the needs of local communities, and the wider economic and tourism interests”.

He added: “Residents have expressed concern about the impact of short-term lets in their communities, including noise, nuisance, anti-social behaviour and a loss of residential housing stock.

“Our proposals to regulate short-term lets will ensure these properties adhere to a common set of safety standards to protect guests and neighbours.”

But Mr Stewart warned that the Scottish Government is “acutely aware” of the impact the pandemic has had on the industry.

He added: “A large number of comments in the consultation centred on whether to proceed with regulation at this time or to delay it. We have amended our proposals to ensure that existing hosts have more than two years to prepare.

“Our proposals support work towards a strong recovery of responsible and sustainable tourism in Scotland.”

But the industry body has blasted the decision for the licensing proposals to proceed during the pandemic.

Chief executive of the Association of Scotland’s Self-Caterers, Fiona Campbell, said: “We are astonished that the Scottish Government will proceed with the regulations at a time when tourism has been devastated by the impact of Covid-19.

“The total financial impact of Covid-19 restrictions to the self-catering sector alone is £265 million since September 2020 – and yet they deem it necessary to prioritise these regulations during a pandemic when other similar pieces of legislation have been postponed.”

“The Scottish Government has singularly failed to engage the concerns of industry, with the First Minister failing to respond to an 38-strong industry letter from October 2020 urging postponement despite a personal commitment to do so, as well as a follow-up letter, and they have also failed to publish a Business Regulatory Impact Assessment contrary to their own best practice.”

Ms Campbell added: “Furthermore, their own consultation response admits that the greatest number of comments were questioning the timing of this regulation.

“Covid-19 has devastated one of Scotland’s key industries and if the Scottish Government wish to see it recover, they need to urgently change its priorities and work with us for a positive outcome for Scottish tourism, rather than compounding the difficulties already faced by businesses across the country.”