Power drills and room rentals: Government launches review of the sharing economy

Written on 30 Sep 2014

“The average power drill is used for an estimated 12 to 13 minutes over its entire lifetime.”

New online business models are enabling people to profit from sharing their time, skills and property – from marketplaces where you can hire out your DIY tools or rent a spare room for a few nights, to car clubs and personal errand providers.

This new “sharing economy” frees up spare capacity in assets and time, but poses questions around regulation and consumer protection. The Government yesterday launched an independent review of these new and sometimes controversial business models. The aim of the review is to:

“Assess the social and economic potential of the sharing economy for the UK, and to make recommendations on how this potential can be reached. It will also consider any risks to consumers or established businesses.”

The focus of the review will be on three sectors where the sharing economy is already established:

  • personal and commercial space – such as home swaps, short term rentals and co-working services;
  • transport – ride sharing and car clubs; and 
  • time and skills – such as the exchange of time between people, and personal errand services.

The review will also look at sectors where there is growth potential, such as fashion, food, and the sharing of personal possessions.

As described by its terms of reference, the review will:

  • attempt to define the sharing economy;
  • understand the main issues faced by businesses within the sharing economy;
  • investigate the main regulatory and policy issues from the perspective of consumers, sharing economy businesses and established business; and 
  • make recommendations on how the sharing economy can reach its potential in the UK.

The entrepreneur Debbie Wosskow will lead the review, with support from the Business Department. The review is expected to be completed by the end of 2014.

Adrian Bott, Head of Tech, Media and Comms at Osborne Clarke, comments:

“This is a timely review into a number of peer-to-peer business models and the make-up and potential of the “sharing economy”; its conclusions and recommendations will be a very interesting input into the debate between the proponents of, and those more cynical about, these business models. Of particular relevance will be questions around the definition of the sharing economy itself and where consumer interests lie – and whether peer-to-peer models are genuinely disruptive to traditional business, or whether they will be dominated by it.”