Edinburgh tourist tax: 'Spend money raised on more council housing' say campaigners

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Living Rent members hung a banner outside the Scottish National Gallery

Campaigning Edinburgh tenants say money raised from the tourist tax should be spent on council housing to help beat the Capital's homes crisis.

Tenants' union Living Rent argues the revenue from the proposed Visitor Levy should be channelled into building more council houses and carrying out repairs and retrofits on existing council homes.

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The call comes as MSPs prepare to consider amendments to the legislation which will allow councils to impose a levy on visitors' bills for overnight accommodation.

Living Rent members hung a banner outside the Scottish National Gallery demanding: "Tourist tax for council flats".Living Rent members hung a banner outside the Scottish National Gallery demanding: "Tourist tax for council flats".
Living Rent members hung a banner outside the Scottish National Gallery demanding: "Tourist tax for council flats". | Supplied

Members of Living Rent hung a banner from outside the Scottish National Gallery at The Mound on Sunday with the message: "Tourist tax for council flats". The group claims tourism has negatively impacted Edinburgh’s housing supply and so the tourist tax should be used to rectifying the problem.

The proposed legislation requires revenue from the Visitor Levy to be reinvested locally into "developing, supporting or sustaining facilities or services which are substantially for or used by persons visiting the scheme area for leisure purposes".

Edinburgh council leader Cammy Day has said he believes the money raised should be used to benefit both visitors and residents. And a survey by the council found infrastructure and city services were the two top priorities for members of the public. Living Rent points out the city has 23,000 on social housing waiting lists and private rents in the city have increased by 18.4 per cent in the past year. The council declared a housing emergency in November.

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Eilidh Keay, chair of Living Rent Edinburgh, said the tourist tax should be ploughed back into supporting Edinburgh's residents and not back into an "already thriving" tourism industry.

She said: “Edinburgh is in the midst of a disastrous housing crisis, and the unchecked explosion of tourism over the last decade has pushed our housing to breaking point. It is time that councillors and MSPs put their money where their mouth is and take concrete action to support tenants.

"The tourist tax is a huge opportunity to fund council homes for people who need them. Edinburgh is a real city, with real residents - not some tourist resort. Without the workers and residents that keep this city going, tourism would not exist.

"This city needs council flats and the tourist tax and the money from that will help ensure thousands of residents have somewhere to live and are not forced out of the city they call home.”

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And Sinéad Collins, a member of Living Rent, said: “The housing crisis in Edinburgh is horrific. I’m being evicted and can’t find a new place to live. That’s why it is essential that money from the tourist tax is spent in a way that actually helps the people who live in Edinburgh and helps alleviate the ongoing housing crisis. We need more council homes and we need the revenue from this tax to help fund building and repairing them.”

The Scottish Parliament's local government committee will today debate amendments the Visitor Levy Bill, including ones from Lothian Labour MSP Sarah Boyack to soften the language in the legislation on how the money is spent.

Lothian Tory MSP Miles Briggs will call for a flat-rate charge instead of a percentage, arguing that would be simpler for businesses, such as small guest houses, to administer. He will also propose a requirement for the levy to be reviewed after a year. And he will press for a series of exemptions, so that the levy would not apply to children under 18; people visiting a family member in hospital would not have to pay it, nor would NHS staff or medical professionals in the city for work purposes, people attending a funeral, those working as an artist or technician at a festival, or a range of others.

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