The short answer is “you will probably be fine”.
You can always make a back-up booking at a chain hotel with a fully-flexible cancellation policy – you can cancel it as soon as the licence comes through for the B&B, Apartment, or Holiday Cottage.
This blog post explains how the Short Term Let licence (STL licence) affects you as a guest, and what you can do if you are worried about booking a B&B, Apartment, or Holiday Cottage.
It is a new law to licence holiday cottages, “Airbnbs”, and traditional Bed and Breakfasts in Scotland.
The government wants to make sure the places you stay in are safe. They also want to help councils balance the needs of locals and visitors, so some areas like Edinburgh include planning permission in the process.
If you have a booking for 2024, the business either has a licence already, or has applied for one.
2024 is a transitional year. Existing business had to apply by September 30th last year, and their licences will be granted by the end of 2024. In the meantime, councils have tens of thousands of applications to work through. Existing businesses are allowed to welcome guests as usual while they wait.
In January 2024, I found data for 11 out of 33 councils (about 16,000 applications). At that time:
So statistically, your host is probably still be waiting for their licence.
Broadly speaking, the licence applies to three categories of business:
It is completely safe once the licence has been granted.
It is probably safe if your host is still waiting for their licence.
All hosts have invested a lot of time money into the process, and the councils must grant them a licence if they have all the safety controls in place.
Edinburgh’s a bit of an exception though, and I am not as confident about bookings there as I am about other places in Scotland. (See why below).
Not really! The rest of this blog post just helps with the details!
If you are worried, book a chain hotel you can cancel when the licence comes through for your B&B, Apartment or Holiday cottage. This is better than cancelling the B&B, Apartment or Holiday Cottage when you don’t need to, and hurting a family-run business.
Yes. However, I think it’s unlikely to happen – this blog post explains why.
The council updated their policy about planning permission following a judicial review. The outcome is better for Short Term Lets and the people who want to stay in them, but the impact on individual businesses is still unclear.
To reassure yourself, ask the owner if they have got their licence (1 in 6 in Edinburgh already have), and ask what their situation is regarding planning permission.
Accommodation is hard to find in Edinburgh at the best of times, and almost impossible in August. So I have to admit that if your booking is cancelled it may be difficult and expensive to find somewhere else.
I am sorry about that!
Let’s just say that the Short Term Let licence has stressed a lot of people for a long time, and it started during the pandemic, as if that wasn’t stressful enough. We all try to be calm under pressure, but sometimes it’s hard!
I think most licences will be granted. Here is why.
In areas where planning permission is required, such as Edinburgh the process may also include a judgement call by the council; before they process the licence, the council may decide if it is appropriate to use the property as a short term let in the first place. So in these areas, the situation is more complicated.
Ask the owner!
If they have a licence that’s great! The booking is secure.
If their application is being processed, ask them for the reference number for their application and the date they applied. You can also ask if the council have contacted them yet, and if they might consider withdrawing their application. Remember to ask them to tell you when their licence is granted.
You can also look up the property on the relevant Council register. Unfortunately, the registers don’t have a standard format, some only show licences not applications, and they are not all up to date.
Only you can decide that.
At one end of the scale, a couple visiting Scotland off-season and staying one or two nights in the bigger towns will find it easy to book somewhere else at short notice.
At the other end of the scale, it would be impossible to re-book a week’s accommodation for a group of 20 people in Edinburgh during Festival, or when Taylor Swift is in town.
Check their website.
There are plenty of signs that someone takes their business seriously; if they are willing to work hard and invest in it, it’s a sign they took their licence application seriously too.
Businesses can still be very safe and professional without doing any of these things.
How long have they been in business? Is their website informative and easy to use? What are their reviews like?
Above all – do they tell you who they are, and provide information about their licence application?
It’s more likely they decided not to apply.
The process was time-consuming and expensive, especially if the buildings were older or very remote, or it involved planning application. They may have closed their business, sold it to someone else, or simply retired.
You should always have travel insurance, even if you live and travel within the UK. Policies vary, so if you are worried, check their cover, and specifically ask them about cancellations by owners and the Scottish Short Term Let licence.
Only you can decide that.
Why not make a back-up booking with a chain hotel with a fully flexible cancellation policy? Then you have peace of mind, and you can cancel the hotel when the good news comes through from the B&B, Apartment or Holiday Cottage that they have your licence.
Staying in B&Bs is a lovely way to experience Scotland because you get great local insights from your host. And holiday cottages provide more space, extra facilities, and a lot of independence. And of course, some of Scotland’s most interesting, unusual and romantic places to stay are Short Term Lets.
No! It doesn’t work like that!
The licence is granted to the owner for the specific accommodation. It does not matter where they advertise their accommodation, or whether you book via an online travel agent or book direct.
They say they will “help you find somewhere else to stay” and that feels very reassuring. But it isn’t a guarantee, and they cannot magic rooms up out of thin air in Edinburgh in August. So I am sceptical they’ll be much help in this scenario.
While we are here, did you know that booking direct is often cheaper, and it is always more personal? Booking.com, VRBO and Airbnb take 15%-20% of what you pay, and Airbnb in particular attracts a high proportion of first-time hosts, though the places with better reviews do turn up first in the searches.
But if booking on the platforms gives you peace of mind, then do that this year.
Staying in independently owned businesses is a great way to make sure the money you spend in Scotland stays in Scotland, and it gives you the opportunity to experience Scotland more closely than staying in a hotel owned by a big international chain.
Enjoy your trip!
My name is Ben (unusual for a woman, I know!) I have a holiday cottage at a lighthouse on the North Coast 500 – you are very welcome to stay here!
I sent my Licence application to Highland Council in August 2023, one of 7300 they are processing. Each time I check their register I find I am nearer the top of the queue!
In a previous life, my job was to understand what was happening in large organisations, so digging around in spreadsheets is second nature to me. I found researching this blog post surprisingly reassuring, though some councils are struggling with the workload.