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Housing

Holiday lets outnumber homes to rent by 100 to 1 in UK’s staycation hotspots

There are hundreds of short-term lets for every home to rent in seaside resorts, analysis by The Big Issue has revealed, and a shortage of homes for residents risks creating “a new generation of homelessness”.

It’s a sweet little earner for those lucky enough to have a second home but renters are increasingly being pushed out of some of the UK’s staycation hotspots with hundreds of holiday lets to every rental home.

Residential properties listed at hotel prices on sites like Airbnb and Vrbo are numbering the tens of thousands from Cornwall to Kent, dwarfing the number of homes available and driving up waiting lists for social housing.

While local leaders, campaigners and even Airbnb are calling for regulation, some families are facing homelessness as landlords evict them in favour of the more lucrative holiday let market.

Jayne Kirkham, a Labour councillor in Falmouth and Truro, Cornwall, told The Big Issue: “We’ve got something like 23,000 people on the housing waiting list and then if you add them together we have about 26,000 second homes and holiday homes in Cornwall. 

“So if everybody who had a holiday or second home let someone who needs a home live in it then we would have more than ample houses to solve our problem. These numbers tie up to a point where the problem is really obvious.”

The Big Issue compared regional data for holiday lets from sector analysts AirDNA with homes available to rent on Rightmove to understand the scale of the issue.

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In Cornwall there were more than 19,500 holiday let listings in June and just 166 properties currently available to rent on Rightmove.

In the villages surrounding Newquay, famous for its surf and summer parties for school leavers, there is just one rental property compared to 794 lets. 

In Padstow, where holiday-goers often travel for the seafood restaurants and harbour market, there is just one house for rent, but almost 800 holiday lets in the town and its surroundings. Rightmove listings are empty for rental properties in the same area outside the town.

The picture is only slightly better in neighbouring Devon. Renters could find 1,051 rental listings in the county on Rightmove, far less than the 15,000 available holiday lets. 

There are just three rental homes in and around Dartmouth compared to 815 holiday listings – a rate of 271 per home. Braunton followed with 239 listings per rental just ahead of the 237 around Ilfracombe.

“What I’ve seen in the last year is that whereas when I first became a councillor it was mainly single men who were becoming homeless and struggling to find accommodation, now it is families – particularly women with children,” Kirkham said.

“They are being forced out of their private rented accommodation under section 21 evictions when the owners sell it or flip it to Airbnb renting or holiday letting.”

Parts of Kent have also seen holiday listings surge since the pandemic. The number of listings in Chatham and Margate have risen by 79 per cent and 77 per cent respectively since 2019. Rentals haven’t kept pace. There are just under two holiday listings for every place to rent in the Chatham area while around Margate there is one for every 27. Overall, there are more than 7,600 holiday let listings in the county compared to 2,600 homes listed for rent.

Meanwhile, there are just 15 rental properties on the market in the area around Hunstanton in Norfolk compared to 1,215 holiday listings. Across the county there are 8,000 holiday lets available to book with just 900 homes listed as available for rent.

Dan Wilson Craw, deputy director at Generation Rent, tells The Big Issue that holiday-let landlords enjoy less regulation, lower taxes and higher rents than private rental counterparts.

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“That is taking away homes from people who live in holiday hotspots, destroying communities, and ultimately damaging the tourist economy itself,” said Wilson Craw. “If no one can afford to live near to tourist jobs, the only people who benefit from holiday lets are the property owners.”

While the government has promised to take action in the forthcoming Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill, some communities are taking matters into their own hands.

Locals in St Ives in Cornwall voted to restrict second homes in a 2016 referendum but currently there are just three rentals and almost 1,500 short-term lets listed.

In Wales, First Minister Mark Drakeford announced planning and tax changes and a licensing scheme earlier this month to help councils tackle the issue, steps that were only possible because of Wales’ devolved status.

The number of Welsh holiday lets has surged since pandemic restrictions eased. There were around 30 per cent more lets in Gwynedd while West Wales listings have risen by a quarter, according to AirDNA. The Big Issue found only three places to rent in Anglesey on Rightmove while there were 2,116 holiday let listings in June.

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While the Welsh plans have yet to bear fruit in redressing the balance, Kirkham believes Cornwall needs the same powers to tackle the issue.

“We do feel frustrated that we don’t have the tools we need in Cornwall to deal with the problem that we’ve got,” she said. “Whereas in other areas, because devolution has already occurred, they do have the tools. The Conservative government just isn’t acting fast enough on this.”

The Westminster government launched a review into the impact of increases in short-term and holiday lets in England before Boris Johnson’s regime collapsed.

As part of the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill, ministers proposed measures to improve standards and give councils the power to increase council tax on empty homes.

New housing minister Marcus Jones said the government “recognises that large numbers of second homes concentrated in a single area can have a negative effect on local communities”. He added the bill would allow a council tax premium on second homes up to 100 per cent.

In Brighton and Hove, where the 4,300 holiday-let listings are more than four times higher than the number of homes to rent, councillors are discussing whether it will become the first city in the UK to restrict second homes.

holiday lets Brighton Acorn Toby Sedgwick
Brighton renter Toby Sedgwick is calling for holiday lets to be limited in the city. Image: Toby Sedgwick

It’s a situation that’s familiar to Toby Sedgwick, 32, who said that he and his partner struggle to pay rent despite a household income of around £40,000 a year.

“It’s madness. I’m Brighton born and bred, I’ve lived here my whole life but the rents are just going up and up and up every single year. So is the competition for a flat – I have seen adverts for a flat asking for 12 months’ rent in advance,” said Sedgwick, a defence organiser for the tenant union Acorn’s Brighton branch.

“I’ve got a long-term partner and we want to have kids, we want to buy a house, my mum lives up the road, I’ve got a grandmother in a nursing home up the road too. I love Brighton but we’ve been talking about Sheffield, Liverpool, moving hundreds of miles away from friends and family just in order to be able to afford somewhere to live.”

Brighton and Hove Labour councillor Gill Williams proposed banning new builds from becoming second homes in a bid to prevent the issue continuing to spiral out of control.

“I find that we are closing down classrooms in schools because families are moving out and there are changing demographics in Brighton and Hove,” she said.

“Tourism is part of our culture but we are struggling to fill jobs because people are having to move away. The number of second homes and holiday lets is changing our streets.

“It’s not just young people too. I’m hearing from people who are at retirement age who have been living in private rented accommodation and they are worried about where they are going to live when they live on their pension. I worry that this could lead to a new generation of homelessness.”

Landlords have called for tax tweaks to help them compete with short-term lets too. Ben Beadle, chief executive of the National Residential Landlords Association, says the growth of holiday lets is a “direct consequence of the government’s attack on long-term rented housing”.

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In big cities it’s a different story. With the pandemic’s shift to homeworking and new regulations to limit the number of days that properties can be rented out for, the Airbnb revolution of recent years has been halted.

There were 41,249 holiday let listings in London in June, down 43 per cent on levels seen before the pandemic and only two per cent higher than in 2021. It’s a similar story in Edinburgh which has seen listings drop from 12,000 before the pandemic down to 6,800.

Both cities brought in planning permission rules to restrict the number of properties being rented out on a short term basis. Londoners can only rent out their property for a maximum of 90 days a year without planning permission to change use with similar rules set to be introduced in Edinburgh.

Even Airbnb accepts that more regulation in the sector is an inevitability – as has been the case abroad where Airbnb landlords are required to register with city authorities like in New York, Boston and Santa Monica.

However, the firm does not accept its operations impact the availability of housing. Amanda Cupples, general manager of Airbnb Northern Europe, told the House of Lords’ Built Environment Committee in May that there was “no evidence” linking the business with a shortage.

An Airbnb spokesperson told The Big Issue: “Four in five UK hosts share only one listing and the majority do so for just two nights a month on average to boost their income. A third of hosts say the additional earnings help them afford the rising cost of living.

“Airbnb welcomes regulation of the sector and we have put forward proposals for clear and modern rules that unlock the benefits of hosting for everyday families and protect communities, while giving local authorities the information and tools they need to regulate home sharing effectively.”

Can the holiday lets genie be put back into the bottle? Unless an affordable homes revolution is on the horizon, immediate action might be the only solution to make the most of the housing we have.

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