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7th December 2020
"Consumers are at risk in using Airbnb",
says leading QC in "game-changing"
legal findings, and calls for Government action
As the global accommodation business Airbnb prepares to issue shares within days, a leading lawyer has examined the consumer protections offered by the "platform" and finds that "Consumers are at risk in using Airbnb".
William Audland QC of 12 King's Bench Walk Chambers, one of the UK's top specialists in personal injury and package travel law, has highlighted the fact that Airbnb's small print avoids any responsibility for the safety - and even the legal compliance - of the accommodation it offers. Its terms and conditions (T&Cs) clam that the global accommodation business is a mere "platform", taking no responsibility in law for the accommodation that "hosts” advertise and sell through its website and app.
The QC finds that "Airbnb's position starkly contrasts with more traditional holiday letting businesses which must comply with coronavirus regulations as well as other more general health and safety regulations...
"Airbnb... circumvents this by virtue of its stated position as a 'platform' offering short term lets, disavowing itself of any responsibility for the listings."
"A consumer who suffers personal injury as a result of accommodation provided through Airbnb has no apparent recourse against Airbnb. Any civil claim against the host is fraught with difficulty, particularly if the host is domiciled abroad."
Particularly damning is the QC's finding that Airbnb "does not appear to check or ensure compliance with its stated requirement that properties advertised must conform to any applicable laws (including health and safety laws and standards)".
The QC concludes that "By contrast to more traditional... holiday letting contracts, which are subject to both mandatory regulatory compliance and a far easier liability regime, consumers appear to be in a substantially riskier position in booking accommodation through Airbnb".
William Audland QC believes that "This state of affairs needs to be remedied", and makes three key "suggestions for reform”:
Mandatory registration of all short term lets with local councils. The registration process should include a verification of the identity and property rights of the Host of the accommodation in question and a mandatory safety inspection either by the council themselves or by a third party at the Host's (or Airbnb's) cost. Mandatory registration is already a requirement in many cities in Europe;
Mandatory third-party insurance for short term lets of a sum sufficient to cover multiple catastrophic injuries and/or fatalities. Airbnb should be required to make this an express condition for listing properties on their website; and
Primary legislation that renders Airbnb liable for the acts and omissions of their hosts. This would be akin to the liability regime in the Package Travel Regulations 2018, imposing liability on platform owners for the acts and omissions of the hosts who advertise on the platform [just as, since 1992, tour operators have had 100% liability for the safety of accommodation they do not own but offer for sale on behalf of owners], and could be coupled with a mandatory requirement that Airbnb itself holds sufficient insurance cover as set out above.
Welcoming the QC's Opinion, David Weston, Chairman of the Bed & Breakfast Association, said:
"No commercial business should be allowed to "opt out" of responsibility for customer safety in the way that Airbnb and similar "platforms" have been able to so far. All our guests deserve equal protection - and the UK's tourism reputation is in danger as long as such huge "black holes" in safety are allowed. We welcome William Audland QC's game-changing legal findings and his recommendations for reform, and look forward to playing a constructive role with Government and other industry bodies in implementing them and protecting consumers, whichever kind of business they choose to book with. It is only right to be fair to guests and to level the playing-field for businesses."
Kate Nicholls, CEO of UK Hospitality, commented:
"The hospitality industry has always put guests first, so taking responsibility for their safety is at the very heart of what we do. At a time when thousands of small businesses are struggling to survive and have made huge investments in extending their guests' safety to include Covid-19 secure operating, it is wrong that giant platforms have so far been allowed to avoid all responsibility. They are putting their guests at risk. We call on the Government to take note of this leading QC's expert warning, and to sit down with the whole industry as soon as possible, to implement his "suggestions for reform" and give all consumers the protections currently enjoyed by those of hotels, B&Bs, lettings agencies and tour operators."
Click the image above to play the video news report from Hospitality Today.
The QC's Opinion on Airbnb's legal position in respect of consumers
The QC was asked by a group of trade bodies representing over 200,000 mainly small and medium sized hospitality businesses across the UK to examine the terms and conditions (T&Cs) of Airbnb, with particular attention to the level of protection they offered consumers, and how this compares with that offered by traditional businesses such as hotels and B&Bs, and traditional intermediaries such as tour operators and letting agencies.
The Opinion from William Audland QC and Max Archer can be read here.
William Audland QC of 12 King's Bench Walk Chambers
William Audland QC has a strong specialist personal injury, clinical negligence, travel and sports law practice. He is experienced in dealing with matters concerning local authority, employers' and public liability, claims involving accidents abroad with issues of jurisdiction and applicable law, and is regularly instructed in cases involving catastrophic injuries. He regularly advises for both claimants and defendants.
12 King's Bench Walk Chambers, ranked "Tier 1" on the London Bar, "lead[s] the way in personal injury and disease litigation",is highly experienced in a range of international travel claims, namely those with jurisdiction law issues. Multi-party claims, package travel disputes, road traffic claims, and employer's liability cases are key areas of strength. A stand-out case for William Audland QC is X v Kuoni Travel, which was referred to the Court of Justice of the European Union in 2019.
27 November 2020
Online travel agencies, "rate parity" restrictions and "brandjacking"
Our chairman David Weston wrote this article in Travel Weekly on 27 November 2020 - click on the image below to open and read it:
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