Short-term lets licensing scheme ‘could breach human rights laws’
The Scottish government’s new short-term let (STL) licensing policy could fall foul of human rights laws, according to operators.
The chairperson of the Association of Scotland’s Self-Caterers (ASSC), Adrienne Carmichael, has written to First Minister Humza Yousaf to warn its licensing regulations may be in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights, as well as privacy and data protection laws.
In the letter, Ms Carmichael said the requirement for STL licensing applicants to publicly disclose their personal data on application notices and council licensing registers may be in contravention of Article 8 of the ECHR and the Scotland Act 1998, as well as General Data Protection Regulation and the Data Protection Act. It further highlights there is “precious little, if any, evidence” licensing authorities have undertaken a data privacy impact assessment.
Set to go live on 1 October 2023, the licensing legislation will require all short-term lets – from self-catering to B&Bs, and home-swapping to those renting out a room in their property – to have a licence to operate.
Ms Carmichael argues the sector “feels under attack from all quarters”, with some individuals already suffering “serious harm directly related to the publication of their personal information”.
She added: “There are instances of operators who have worked in the security services and law enforcement, well versed in protecting their personal information from public scrutiny, who have now decided that the risks to them and their loved ones which are posed by a licence application are simply too great to take.”
The ASSC said it is increasingly concerned regarding the negative impact the short-term let debate is having on community relations and has received a “deluge of examples” demonstrating the impact on “perfectly law-abiding, hard-working and sometimes vulnerable self-catering and bed and breakfast owners and their staff”.
Fiona Campbell, chief executive at the Association of Scotland’ Self-Caterers, said: “This is just another example of how the Scottish government has taken forward incompetent legislation. They need to pause this disastrous scheme and undertake a much-needed review before it is too late.
“Our sector feels demonised for running small businesses in Scotland’s vital tourism sector and are demoralised at the fractious impact of the debate. When we have sought to highlight the many shortcomings of the licensing legislation, the threats and harassment often increase. The toxicity remains and if anything is getting worse, with operators blamed for all manner of societal ills.
“I speak from personal experience after being assaulted in 2018 and subjected to continued harassment from neighbours, purely through trying to earn a living for my family. Sadly, I am not alone. Many ASSC members have told me that they won’t give their personal details on the licence application for fear of being attacked. Remember, these are operators of legitimate small accommodation businesses, who are a vital and integral part of the tourism sector.”
Earlier this year, the City of Edinburgh Council was successfully challenged at the Court of Session over its licensing policy which was found to breach common law and the Provision of Services Directive. According to the ASSC, other local authorities, including Glasgow, Dundee, Argyll & Bute and Highland, are thought to be next in line for legal action. In addition, Edinburgh Council will be subject to a second judicial review, this time over its planning policy.
A Scottish government spokesperson said: “Good quality standards are at the heart of regulating the short-term let sector. Local councils’ licensing schemes have been in operation since October 2022 and many short-term let hosts have already obtained licences.
“The judicial review was specific to the City of Edinburgh Council’s implementation of the short-term let licensing scheme – it was not a challenge in itself to the legislation.
“Six impact assessments, including a Data Protection Impact Assessment, were published as part of the 2020 consultation on the scheme. The Scottish government will respond to the ASSC in due course.”