ITV Meridian finds Airbnb hosts willing to let homes for illegal gatherings

Tap above to find out about the Airbnb owners willing to let out their property to groups of 13

The property rental website Airbnb says it will take action against those found to be breaking the law after ITV Meridian found owners willing to accept bookings of more than six people.

Those within the holiday-lets industry say that the new rule of six is damaging their business.

We searched for properties across the South in Kent, Sussex, Hampshire, Dorset and Oxfordshire to host 13 people for a birthday celebration this weekend.

We message several property owners on Airbnb

While many told us it’s simply not possible because of the rule of six others appeared happy to accept the booking.

An AirBnb owner from Folkestone told us 'thank you for choosing our house. It will be great to host you’

In Hastings, one owner replied 'Children are totally fine. It's a great family house'

'It's okay. I just need to be careful not attracting too much attention' was the response from someone in Thanet.

We were told 'Yes, that's fine, the house sleeps up to 20 people' by an owner in Brighton.

In Bournemouth, an owner said ‘happy to accept you and your guests’

‘You can go ahead and book.’ was how someone in Southampton responses.

The Prime Minister announced on 9th September that gatherings of more than six people - both inside and out - would be illegal and holiday lets are not exempt.

Those who organise gatherings could be fined up to £10,000 and police say they will take action.

Katy Bourne, police and crime commissioner for Sussex Credit: ITV Meridian

Reacting to our findings, the Police and Crime Commissioner for Sussex Katy Bourne said,

I think where large groups are flouting the rules as laid out by Airbnb they need to look at why they’re doing this because at the end of the day we’re adhering to the rule of six to prevent the spread of a virulent virus that can kill as well.

Katy Bourne, Police and Crime Commissioner for Sussex

Holiday-lets owners say 'rule of six' is having a financial impact

Like many sectors the hospitality industry has been hit hard by the pandemic, cuts to VAT have helped and the furlough scheme has provided some certainty for employees but restrictions on the number of gatherings have impacted.

Carl Stanger runs Exclusively Eastbourne, a holiday lets company with properties in Sussex Credit: ITV Meridian

Carl Stanger runs Exclusively Eastbourne, a holiday lets company with properties across Sussex.

We've got to make some difficult decisions about staff now, do we invest in staff to bring them back as the furlough system comes down or do we let them go. It's another cloud on the horizon and we just need a bit of common sense going forward.

Carl Stanger, Exclusively Eastbourne

Many within the industry believe that common sense approach would include the Government allowing children to be exempt from the rule of six as they are in Wales and Scotland.

As it is now, it’s limiting bookings for people like Kristian Hayter who heads up the hospitality association in Eastbourne alongside running holiday-lets and a bed and breakfast.

“It really restricts the level of people coming and because it's counting children under 12 that's a real issue for us because we know they aren't super-spreaders, the children are going back to school and that impacts on the level of groups that can come to Eastbourne.”

Kristian Hayter, Eastbourne Hospitality Association Credit: ITV Meridian

He does say though it’s important for everyone to follow the current guidelines on gatherings.

The guidelines are really important if we are going to avoid a second national lockdown. It's extremely important everyone we all follow the guidance.

Kristian Hayter, Eastbourne Hospitality Association

The rule of six is a 'simple message'

Earlier this week the Health Secretary Matt Hancock told the Commons that the rule is six is designed to be a simple message, and that children do ‘transmit the virus’.

In response to our findings AirBnb told us...

“Safety is paramount and we have reached out to our community to remind them about COVID guidelines and the potential to be fined if found to be in breach of these rules. Whilst the vast majority of people travel and host responsibly, we will not tolerate the actions of a small few who break the rules and will take appropriate action whenever these cases are brought to our attention.”

The company says it’s banned parties and also put out enhanced cleaning guidelines for guests who are legally allowed to stay in the homes on their website.