Doctor in the House Family Letter 2019

                Overview of the Homestay market place and Doctor in the House: January 2020
As 2019 turns in to 2020 it is time to reflect on the year gone by, to those of you new to Doctor in the House (DitH), this circular is sent as a reminder to our Hosts of your responsibilities to our Guests, and as an aide-memoire of what needs to be done as a responsible Host during 2020. It is also an update newsletter, as always Doctor in the House continued to progress, develop and change in 2019 and we want to let you know what we’ve been up to behind the scenes.
We have made some considerable and fundamental changes in 2019 that will affect you as a host going forward into 2020, so do please read all of this letter, it’s a lot to take in but I promise it won’t take longer than 5 minutes and it should stand you in good stead for the coming year!
Now seems like a great time to introduce myself, I have been working with DitH since February 2019 in my role as operations manager and I have enjoyed my freshman year immensely, getting to know the business and our current Hosts, travelling around London visiting, chatting and having a cup of tea with new ones as well as working with my fantastic colleagues Sandra and Cat.

The last year has seen DitH focus further on social media campaigning and improving our standing online and we have made great strides in these fields. Our social profiles have undergone a huge revamp and our marketing material is now more highly focused and finely tuned towards our target audience.

As ever, the big US-based accommodation platforms continue to lead the market and indeed change the landscape. Encouragingly for DitH, the big players are continuing to move their focus from Homestays to entire apartments and standalone accommodation, making our service even more relevant. This being said, big businesses influence on the market of which they are the architects is indeed immense. Rapid growth has been fuelled further in recent times by new Hosting management services as well as increased numbers of buy-to-let investors creating a real alternative to hotels, traditional Homestays and B&B accommodation, making it harder still to secure bookings for Doctor in the House Hosts.

This is reflected in our decision to keep the same standard rates as we have for the previous 3 years. The saturation of the market has resulted in accommodation prices remaining static, but of course should you wish we are very happy to update and customise your rate card if you would like to charge more.
Now that Hospitals and institutions deal with most of their accommodation needs online, keeping DitH in their sights is more crucial than ever, and this is a huge part of where our energy is focusing moving forward. Google is almost the last frontier, and it plays a huge role in our plans for 2020. We will be rolling out Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) changes to our website which will help us to forge ahead, reinforce and fortify our footing in the accommodation market as well as using Google to advertise ourselves more prevalently.
2019 saw Doctor in the House complete more Guest bookings than the previous 3 years, and we are primed and confident in our strategy to maintain this upward trend in 2020.

What’s new from Doctor in the House?

2019 was another big year of change and development and in May we launched our new website which has helped us to perform in the same way as Airbnb and all of the major players in the accommodation market. Crucial new features include a feedback request, this means the day after your Guest leaves you, they will be asked how their stay was and if they were happy with the accommodation. This feedback will then be published on your microsite and potentially our website. This feature has been running for more than 6 months now so many of you will be able to go to your microsite and check out the reviews your Guests have left for you. 

We also introduced a “featured hosts” section, to encourage greater interest and hopefully, bookings. In addition to this our wonderful new price calculator allows Guests to see how much their stay might cost, based on your rate card registered with us. 

In August we completed further development work on another key part of the DitH process. When Guests enquire with us we send them a selection of Hosts for them to make a choice from which is tailored to their requirements. Previously this selection was held in a link providing very basic functionality. We and our development team worked hard to create a more user-friendly selection page, and have succeeded in bringing that to life.
We added a chat function that gives Guests the chance to talk to Sandra & Cat through a LIVE chatbox, improving the speed of communication with our Guests has helped to progress our engagement and put us on an even footing with our lofty competitors.
We also added an editable details section wherein Guests can rectify any mistakes in the booking details or make any changes they may need to without needing input from our bookers. These changes were essential for us to implement to progress Guest trust in our services and we hope to see this reflected in our bookings.

None of these new developments will affect our services or the ideals that sit at the heart of DitH. Doctor in the House will continue to run as always, with a dedicated booking team working with Guests and Hosts every step of the way.

Finally, an honourable mention to our managing director Chris Wills, who has taken a step back from day to day operations and has entered into well-deserved retirement after steering the ship for the past 4 years though he is still around to dole out wisdom and advice when necessary!
2019 was another year of building and improving the standing and functionality of Doctor in the House and now, looking to 2020 our target is increasing booking numbers and prosperity for our Hosts.
Important points to remember as a Host, rates, things to do, and TAX update.
I am sure you know from your own experiences that a warm greeting is always appreciated, and we encourage you to make your Guests feel at ease even before their arrival with a friendly welcome email, many of your Guests will be new to the UK and we know from feedback given to us that they deeply value and appreciate the extra efforts our Hosts go to by being forthcoming and approachable in their initial correspondences, providing directions, little tips, and general household information. It costs very little to make the first move and create a good relationship with a Guest, and if you get it right at the beginning you will avoid any ambiguity and possible misunderstandings between you and your Guests, leaving everybody happy.
If you would like any help from Doctor in the House with your opening email, please don’t hesitate to contact us and we will more than happy to help you craft something.
You will by now be aware of our automated acceptance or decline emails. Please click on one of the options depending on your answer:
Green to accept
Red to decline
Blue if you want to know more. By clicking on Blue opens up a new email that is easy to manage at our end and enables you to ask as many questions as you like.
Sandra and Cat will now always call you first to see if you are available. If you do not pick up we will send you an email that must be replied to within 24 hours. If we don’t hear from you within 24 hours we will assume you are not interested and you will receive an email to this effect. Sadly today’s Guests seek instant gratification and unless we can confirm accommodation is available almost immediately they start shopping elsewhere, which means we lose a potential booking.
When you do accept a booking you can now see full details on your Microsite. Go to the agreement section where you can see your booking details in full. Furthermore, you can also access a full record of previous bookings. If you are unsure how to do this, contact me, Cat or Sandra and they will be delighted to help.
When bookings are confirmed you and your Guest receive a comprehensive email detailed with everything you need to know about the booking.  One recent change to our system is the instruction to your Guest to make contact. This is now written in red stating: It is most important that you contact your Host well in advance of your stay to confirm and arrange your time of arrival. Preferably once you have made your advance payment.
On occasions, Guests appear to miss this essential message but we keep trying.
In previous years, with long-term bookings, DitH has asked Hosts to collect part of our management fee on our behalf but 2020 will see us change this process. For long-term bookings, Doctor in the House will now be collecting the full fee from your Guest and will pay you for your accommodation via a monthly bank transfer.
Short term bookings will continue to be paid in cash by your Guests as is customary, though if you prefer to be paid solely by bank transfer that can be arranged upon request.
Keeping track of you within our booking system
One of the critical aspects of our booking system are your needs and specific requirements. If your circumstances have changed in any way over the past year please contact Sandra or Cat, who will be eager to update your records.
Typical changes and useful information might be:
  • Changes to your household, access to the kitchen or bathroom. A new pet or for that matter any animal.
  • Any dates where you are unavailable and do not wish to receive a booking.
  • Preferred type of booking. You may wish to broaden your original brief to get more bookings.
Repeat bookings – When you receive a Guest from DitH your Guest will have agreed to our terms and conditions, which are legally binding. It is important to note that even if they have come to you directly after a previous stay, prices and management fee for Doctor in the House accommodation will still apply. Just let Sandra or Cat know and they will
create a new booking for you.
Insurance is essential and not a ‘nice to have’. Please make sure you are adequately covered to take paying guests. If you experience any problems please contact our booking team and we will be delighted to help.

A gas certificate is now a legal requirement when providing accommodation for paying guests. You must have your gas boiler checked annually and obtain a gas certificate. Many of you have provided us with a copy but not all. Can you
please scan your copy and email it to one of the team at your earliest convenience.
If you have a gas boiler it is a legal requirement to fit Carbon Monoxide Detectors. Please also ensure you install a smoke alarm on each floor, and if you have a solid fuel burner you will also need to install a Carbon Monoxide detector in the nearby vicinity. They are cheap to install but they do need a new battery from time to time unless you wish to install the more expensive type, which last for 10 years.

One for Homestays and not flats or bedsits. Could you please offer your Guest a full continental breakfast. That’s tea/coffee, juice, cereal, toast/bread, and fruit and ensure that all products are within their 'sell-by' date. We suggest that you discuss breakfast with your Guest on arrival.  If you go out in the morning to work could you please leave breakfast in a suitable place and show your Guest what they need to do when preparing breakfast i.e. preparing coffee/tea/toast.
At DitH we still follow HMRC guidelines so if you choose not to provide breakfast, HMRC will technically not consider your earnings to be from B&B and you will not be able to make the most from the new tax break. See below under Tax.
TV, HEATING, and Wi-Fi
In days gone by we had asked for you to provide your Guest room with a TV as this was considered a basic requirement for Homestay (B&B) accommodation. Now the internet has taken over and most Guests will probably now be watching TV on their laptops. Therefore please ensure your Guests have access to hi-speed Wi-Fi. When we promote your accommodation we state internet access as standard. In today’s world, such a facility is considered as an essential tool for both work and recreation and not a “nice to have”. Furthermore please try and ensure your broadband connection is fast and not just installed as a token measure. 

One re-occurring point made repeatedly by our Guests is heating. Please ensure that your Guest’s room is warm in the morning and the evening, London can be a chilly place for Guests arriving from warmer countries and just because you like plenty of fresh air doesn’t mean your guests will feel the same way. Remember they are paying for a comfortable warm bedroom.

For bookings up to 27 nights and 28 nights + we will continue to work with 2019 rates with the option to opt for a custom rate card. This means if you wish you can now set your own rate. We have looked hard at the market place and little has changed since 2017 with Homestay and Hotel rates flat-lining. We recommend you stay at our standard rate for Homestay accommodation.
Our DitH management fee remains the same as in 2019.
For those of you who have self-contained flats with separate access and some bedsits we still negotiate the fee for
each flat independently.
Please remember when Sandra or Cat are making a booking it will be invariably for single occupancy which is the rate paid by the Guest, even if the room is a double. We do not charge for a double if we only have a single occupant. As a rule of thumb for Homestays, an additional guest, using the same room, is charged at £18.00 per night
Your recommended rates for a Homestay with Doctor in the House for 2020 are:
Per night
Per night
Those who have special accommodation will continue to operate with a custom rate card.
As is customary with Doctor in the House, your Guest should pay you in cash - pounds sterling on arrival unless the booking is made by a 3rd party (corporate clients) or is a long-term booking, in which case DitH will pay you on a monthly basis (see note).
It goes without saying that it is essential when your Guest makes a payment that you count the money received in-front of them and provide a receipt to avoid any confusion. If your Guest needs a Tax receipt please direct them to your booking team who will issue a receipt on behalf of DitH and you the Host.
Note: For long-stay accommodation, where we have previously asked you to collect part of our management fee we have now implemented changes where DitH will collect the full booking fee and pay you monthly by bank transfer.
As we will no longer be asking Hosts to collect our management fee there will no longer be the need to make payments by cheque or any other means. Going forward all payments will be managed via bank transfer.
You can now access all of your booking records via your Microsite, which will be helpful if you are asked to make a tax return for HMRC.
A few important points to consider for Homestay accommodation and HMRC rules:
  • You should not expect to accommodate more than six people at the same time.
  • The building must be your own home or if leased it is must be stated in your agreement that you can run a Homestay or B&B.
  • The Homestay business must be secondary to the use of the building as a home.
Rent a Room scheme
Many of our Hosts operate under HMRC’s Rent a Room scheme. The Rent a Room scheme is an optional scheme available to owner-occupiers or tenants who let out furnished accommodation to a Guest in their main home. From April 2016 the scheme now allows you to earn up to £7,500 tax-free, or £3,250 if you are letting jointly.
If the amount you earn from renting out the room is less than the thresholds of the Rent a Room scheme, then your tax exemption is automatic and you don’t need to do anything.
If you earn more than the threshold, you must complete a tax return (even if you don’t normally), and you can then do one of the following:
  • Choose to opt into the scheme – in which case you need to let HM Revenue & Customs know this on your tax return and claim your tax-free allowance.
  • Not opt into it – in which case you simply record your income and any associated expenses on the property pages of your tax return.
There’s no special form for telling HM Revenue & Customs that you don’t want to be part of the scheme. If you earn more than the threshold or already complete a tax return, you simply declare the relevant lettings income and expenses when completing your tax return.
Your DitH team continues to operate with real people who manage every step, from enquiry through to booking until your Guest leaves your accommodation. We are always there to iron out any wrinkle and ensure you and your Guests are happy and if things do not go as planned, we are there to support you and ensure any issue is resolved swiftly. We are not a large faceless company so if you have any concerns please contact your bookers or myself and we will do everything we can to put your mind at rest or resolve any issue you might have.
And finally!
I hope you have found this information to be clear and useful, and if you have any questions please to do not hesitate to contact us.
We will continue to work hard to develop closer relationships with Hospitals in London and the UK and we anticipate continued positive reaction to our online campaigns and strategies.
Best wishes from the Doctor in the House Team.
Lewis, Sandra, Cat, Mark, and Chris