THE Scottish self-catering industry has slammed ministers for dismissing its concerns over a licensing regime for short-term letting accommodation, as new figures show the majority of operators have still to apply to the scheme shortly before it is due to go live in October.

The Association of Scotland’s Self-Caterers (ASSC) has declared that the Scottish Government has “casually dismissed” its fears over the “costly and onerous nature of short-term let licensing”.

Ministers are introducing the scheme to address the impact of the rise of unregulated Airbnb-style short-term letting accommodation, including the effects on the supply of housing for local residents and concern over anti-social behaviour.

The licensing scheme, which was due to be launched in March before being delayed for six months, is mandatory for all short-term let accommodation across Scotland, including holiday cottages, B&Bs, guest houses, pods, and yurts.

READ MORE: Scotch whisky club reveals ambitions after US and EU breakthroughs

But the scheme has come under fire from the self-catering industry, which has warned the cost of complying with the system is causing people to exit the industry.

Fiona Campbell, chief executive of the ASSC, warned the scheme risked criminalising hard-working people who have spent their lives running small hospitality businesses and would not solve Scotland’s housing shortage.

Ms Campbell told The Herald: “We are not saying we are against regulation. In fact, we have been asking for regulations since 2016. But this approach that they have taken… is not going to solve the housing crisis, it is not going to detract from the declining number of new homes being built across Scotland. It is not going to deter rogue operators and it will criminalise hard-working Scottish people trying to make ends meet.

“It is going to sink the tourism industry and its reputation globally and create a host of new problems for the country and indeed the government.

READ MORE: Scottish ice cream brand Mackie's hits £20m of sales for first time

“We have got to remember that we are not, as we are regularly perceived, landlords. We are hospitality businesses that give you the holiday of your dreams. That’s what we do.”

Ms Campbell added: “We are not saying 'don’t legislate'. We are saying make sure it is proportionate, reasonable, justifiable, and non-discriminatory, and doesn’t shut us all down or criminalises us by the first of October.”

Under legislation passed by the Scottish Government, local authorities have been given the power to introduce short-term let control areas.

Hosts are required to have applied for a licence by October 1, but so far, the ASSC said the majority of operators have not done so.

A recent survey of around 1,270 short-let businesses by the ASSC found more than 60% of operators had yet to apply for a licence. In addition, it said the Scottish Government’s own figures showed only 16% of operators of short-term letting properties have applied, and that just 8% have been granted a licence.

Ms Campbell noted that the system as it stands is excessively “bureaucratic” and costly and gave the example of the owner of a B&B in operation since 1978 who has had to spend £2,500 for layout plans to be drawn up. She said such costs were out of proportion to the often “meagre profit” small self-catering businesses generate.

READ MORE: Shares dive in Scots investment firm amid market volatility

Another ASSC member which has been running a business since 1977 is having to spend £24,000 on “non-refundable licence fees alone and she is doing exactly what she has been doing [all along]”.

Ms Campbell said: “Things like layout plans are completely unnecessary. In some instances, people are being asked to get planning permission when they have been told historically that they don’t need it. And, of course, planning permissions have gone up.

"In some places they are applying policies retrospectively which you can’t do when people are invested in a business. Last week it was fine to do it, this week you are having to spend £1,200, £1,800 on doing exactly the same thing, and then you have got to apply for a licence.”

While Ms Campbell said the actual licensing costs are “reasonable” in some areas, she noted that in Edinburgh it is £5,869 for a year for the largest properties. This compares with registration fees of £86 for three years for long-term landlords.

Ms Campbell said: “Given that they are talking about the same health and safety legislation, how can they justify even £240 compared to £86?”

The ASSC, which represents more than 1,700 members, says many operators have already left the sector because of the regulatory burden and warned more will follow suit due to the impact of the regulations.

But it said that despite repeatedly flagging its concerns to the Scottish Government, its requests for a meeting with First Minister Humza Yousaf have been rebuffed.

The organisation wants to meet Mr Yousaf “as soon as possible to help save jobs and livelihoods in the self-catering sector and work to put in place a fair, lawful and proportionate regulatory framework”.

READ MORE: Scott Wright: Will Yousaf housing plan threaten key Scottish industry?

Ms Campbell said: “This is unfortunately the latest example of the casual disregard the Scottish Government shown towards the tourism industry. They failed to appoint a dedicated tourism minister but when they did, they’ve put their fingers in their ears when our sector has expressed concern about licensing.

“All of our outstanding concerns and alternative regulatory approaches were recently brushed aside by ministers. We’re meant to have a New Deal for Business but it appears to be the same old same old approach from the Scottish Government, hitting small businesses and rural areas in the pocket.

“With the clock ticking down to the licensing deadline, we need a sense of urgency and not complacency.

"Another policy disaster is set to unfold, and we sincerely hope the First Minister can get round the table before it is too late.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The purpose of licensing is to ensure short-term lets in Scotland are safe and the people providing them are suitable. Many hosts will already be able to meet licensing conditions as a matter of compliance with existing law or best practice.

“Local councils are already operating short-term lets licensing schemes and, according to data published by 18 councils, there have been nearly 2,700 licences granted and none rejected. A further 2,600 applications are under consideration, and councils are receiving more applications every day as the deadline for existing hosts approaches.

“After October 2023, regulation will provide councils with a clearer picture of the number of short-term lets in Scotland, as there is currently no reliable source of this data.”