Friday 30 September 2016

Sharing the fruits of your neighbours

The sharing economy is all about being good to your wallet as well as your soul

John Cradden

Published 28/06/2015 | 02:30

'The sharing economy is all about being good to your wallet as well as your soul'
'The sharing economy is all about being good to your wallet as well as your soul'

The advantages of the fast-growing 'sharing economy' - online platforms that help people share access to property, services, resources and skills - should be obvious enough at a time when too many of us are still feeling the financial pinch.

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After all, you can save hundreds, even thousands, on the costs of holidays, transport and a whole sweep of services through things like house swap rentals, car-sharing, and exchanging skills, items and knowledge.

The growth of this emerging sector is going hand-in-hand with a change in attitudes to ownership, as renting, swapping or sharing things can be much cheaper as buying them outright and without the hassle of paying for the running costs or storage.

There's also a feel-good factor that comes with participating in the sharing economy right now, particularly in terms of meeting new people and like-minded souls or even just a sense that you're beating the system. So how can you take your first steps into it?

House-swapping

This can be a way of generating income or a cheap and convenient way to travel. Airbnb is the biggest and best-known name in a sector that enables you to rent out unoccupied properties or a spare room to others on a short-term basis, while other platforms include Wimdu and Couchsurfing.

With Airbnb, which has nearly 5,000 listings in Ireland, 'hosts' upload a listing to the site that describes their property and the amenities and, once verified, a photographer comes and takes pictures of it.

Once the visitors arrive and are happy with the property, payment is wired to the owners account 24 hours after arrival.

Both parties get to 'review' each other on the site, which is said to have largely worked in encouraging everyone to keep their noses clean, preventing both hosts and visitors from theft, vandalism or any other problems.

Airbnb protects each listing with its 'host guarantee', which provides cover of up to €700.000 if a guest causes damage.

If you want to be a host, the rate you charge is up to you, but you'll need to check out other listings to get a feel for what is competitive.

The firm charges 3pc of the transaction value as a service fee from the host, and between 6-12pc from the guest depending on the size of the transaction. There may also be VAT to pay, not to mention currency conversion fees if the property you're renting is not in a eurozone country.

The fees are similar to those on Wimdu, except that guests are charged a flat 12pc service fee. The firm, which claims that its hosts earn an average €900 a month, also provides free host insurance to the tune of up to €500,000.

There are no fees for using Couchsurfing, either as a guest or a host, but with Wimdu or Airbnb, guests can opt for a private room or a complete property if they want total privacy. With Couchsurfing, the host will always be present.

You will have to declare any income generated in this way through your property, however.

The Revenue Commissioners recently revised the rules so that income earned through renting out your room/apartment/home through services like Airbnb will be treated as taxable income - and must be declared.

"This came as a bit of a blow to people acting as Airbnb hosts, who thought it might be an easy way to earn a bit of cash on the side - many people believed that the activity would fall under the rent-a-room tax relief threshold of €12,000," said Barry Flanagan of Taxback.com.

However, there may still be ways to reduce your tax bill. Mr Flanagan advises hosts to keep a record and receipts of any expenses incurred through this activity, as they ought to qualify for deductions as trading expenses.

Bartering

The idea of exchanging goods and services with people in your locality without any money changing hands might seem a hard concept to get your head around, particularly if you're a city dweller.

But a number of small local communities around the country, such as Clonakilty and Sheep's Head in Co Cork, have been running "favour exchanges" for a number of years now, where people come together to exchange favours, which some have also described as "timebanks".

So, plumbing, handiwork or professional advice given to one person can earns you web design, nutritional advice, music lessons or gardening from others.

Achill Island Helpstay is a newer venture where visitors to this popular Co Mayo tourist destination can offer to provide "honest help" to hosts in exchange for accommodation and board.

In Dublin, a venture called Trade School Dublin has devised a different take on the bartering concept where anyone can offer to teach a class in something they are skilled in or knowledgeable about.

To date, there have been classes on growing your own food, household DIY, webdesign, poetry, journalism, art and painting, writing funding applications, playing the tin whistle, making electronics, knitting, yoga, languages and more.

Would-be students can pay for a class by bringing in a barter item that the teacher has requested in advance.

These can be simple food items such as tea bags or chocolate, homemade food items, advice (interesting recipes, lists of places to go or things to do) or even just a commitment to continue to do what they learn in the class.

The only request is that the classes are not about promoting a business or brand and that the barter items reflect that, according to Trade School Dublin.

Car sharing

Car sharing services, which are essentially a form of short-term, pay as you go car hire, have taken off in a big way in other EU countries, including the UK. Here, the only player in the market is GoCar, but its services are expanding rapidly.

You may have noticed a number of white Fords or Hyundais with a distinctive green logo parked in one of over 60 designated street car parking spots around Dublin and Cork.

Gocar is handy if you live in the city and don't own a car but can't justify the cost of owning one for all the use you might make of it, or if you need the handy but temporary use of a second car.

Unlike traditional hire cars that you can only hire on a day basis, you can hire a GoCar for as little as an hour and only pay for that hour. You'll have to haul a child seat with you to a pick-up point if you have children under four, but for those older than that, there are inflatable booster seats now available.

To use the service, you need to pay a once-off fee of €50 to join and then a monthly fee of €5.

After that, for a small Ford Fiesta or Hyundai 110i, you pay a rate of €5 per hour during the hours of 8am to 12pm, and €2.50 for all other times, while the hourly rates for a bigger Ford Focus or Hyundai i30 over the same periods are €6 and €3 respectively. You are also charged €0.45 per km travelled.

The tariffs include fuel, which you can buy using a fuel card provided in the cars.

Car sharing services shouldn't be confused with the business of sharing lifts or car-pooling, which is a popular way to cut down on commuting costs for workers who live and work in the same area.

Websites like Carsharing.ie or Rideshare Ireland (on Facebook) can help match up drivers with passengers who can contribute to petrol costs for designated journeys.

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