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Trustmark to be created for UK app businesses in ‘sharing economy’

The UK is soon to become the first country to create a trustmark for the growing number of app businesses which allow people to rent out personal property or offer themselves for hire as cleaners, pet sitters, taxi drivers and more.

A trustmark is a government-endorsed standard supported by consumer protection groups, and the introduction of a trustmark into the app business market reflects the popularity that the ‘sharing economy’ has seen in the UK.

Britons have embraced services such as taxi-hailing apps, crowdfunding websites and online holiday rentals and the growth of this market has been helped by the soft regulation of internet start-ups in the UK.

PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) estimates that the global market is now worth $15bn, with peer-to-peer lending and crowdfunding in the UK now believed to handle more than £1.6bn in loans and investments.

However, the rapid growth of new business that undercut established providers, such as taxi-booking business Uber, has raised concerns regarding the companies’ ability to ensure a fair wage or basic employment rights to those actually delivering the services.

The UK trustmark will introduce minimum requirements for app businesses to meet, which will be set by a team from the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship at Oxford university’s Said Business School, working in partnership with the Sharing Economy UK (SEUK) trade body.

The founder of the Skoll centre, Jeff Skoll, was the first president of online auction company eBay, which was a pioneer of businesses the type of business that the new trustmark aims to verify.

SEUK was launched in March by a group of 28 similar businesses, including car hire service Zipcar, cleaner-booking platform Hassle and home rentals website Airbnb.

Business secretary Sajid Javid has backed both the trade body and the trustmark, saying: “Britain wants to be the most welcoming place in the world for digital and disruptive technologies. The sharing economy has enormous potential to create jobs and growth, and the government will continue to scrap outdated regulations that hold back innovation.”

Director of the Skoll Centre, Pamela Hartigan said “We are always interested in new business models that are really transforming practices.”

“One of the most exciting things about the sharing economy is that it is enabling people to buy from strangers, but people want to know who they can turn to if there is a problem with the service.”

Co-founder of Hassle, Alex Depledge, hoped that the trustmark creators will outline a standard that will reassure customers and better data on how these markets operate.

Speaking to the Financial Times, she said “The sector gets slammed by negative press, particularly from the US, which is very different to the UK. A lot of these stories have been taken from anecdotes rather than proper analysis of the data.”

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