The outgoing boss of Whitbread has attacked Airbnb, claiming the government is giving start-up technology companies an unfair advantage by allowing them to take a more relaxed approach to the rules than established players.
Andy Harrison, chief executive of the Premier Inn parent company, claimed that both the government and new industry players could be doing more to ensure a level playing field in complying with the law, including on the paying of tax.
“It’s a fact that the government is not keeping up with the pace of change of technology,” he told the annual CBI conference.
“They are not using the information available, they are not requesting the information. I don’t think they are putting a sufficiently strong requirement on the new companies to follow the same regulations as we do.”
He claimed 40% of people on the Airbnb site list “multiple” properties, the Times reported.
“These are probably professional landlords,” he said. “How does the government or Airbnb know that these landlords are complying with all the same laws that we are, whether it’s health and safety, consumer protection or paying their taxes?”
James McClure, general manager of Airbnb for the UK and Ireland, declined to reply when asked whether the firm would be prepared to share information on its landlords with the taxman,
He said that the company had “very good discussions” with Revenue & Customs and indicated that it was the responsibility of the landlords to pay the right amount of tax.
“These are commercial transactions; they are liable for tax,” McClure said. “We send reminders around to all our landlords.”
He also welcomed the government’s efforts to foster new technology businesses by trimming red tape. In the July budget, the chancellor announced a tax break for people who rent out their home, with a tax-free allowance for the first £7,500 of income from next April.
McClure described the government’s efforts as “supportive”.
But Harrison said he had written to the government and the House of Lords.
“We are not looking for any special favours,” he said. “We just want to make sure regulation keeps up with technology and there is a level playing field.”
He stressed that Airbnb was too small to have impacted Premier Inn so far.
“There are no signs that Airbnb has damaged our business, but we are watching carefully,” Harrison said.
He added that his complaint was less about the new, disruptive companies in isolation and more about technology, and that the “taxman needs to make sure he collects all the taxes that are due”.