The Solberg Government appointed the Sharing Economy Committee by Royal Decree on 4 March 2016. Professor Tommy Staahl Gabrielsen (University of Bergen) chaired the Committee, whose other members were Professor Tor W. Andreassen (NHH Norwegian School of Economics), Randi Flesland (Director, Norwegian Consumer Council), Christine Korme (Director, Abelia/Confederation of Norwegian Enterprise), Anders Mjåset (entrepreneur, Mesh), Professor Espen Moen (BI Norwegian Business School), Roger Schjerva (chief economist, IKT-Norge), Siri Teigum (lawyer, Thommessen law firm) and Trude Tinnlund (LO Secretary, the Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions, LO).
In its mandate, the Committee was asked to evaluate opportunities and challenges presented by the sharing economy. The Committee was tasked with identifying and assessing regulatory provisions challenged by the sharing economy, including regulations in markets in which the sharing economy is particularly prominent. A further priority specified in the mandate, was the labour-market consequences of the sharing economy. Finally, the Committee was requested to consider consumer protection rules and the objective of consumer safety. The Committee concentrated particularly on new taxi and small-scale passenger transport services and the accommodation market, but also examined a number of tax issues.
The Committee concluded that the sharing economy holds promise for the Norwegian economy, not least in terms of boosting competition, innovation and consumer choice. Sharing economy companies can potentially improve economic efficiency and thereby free up resources for other socially beneficial purposes. The sharing economy may also have positive environmental effects.
The sharing economy also presents various challenges. It entails far greater direct trade between private individuals than previously envisaged. The regulatory frameworks for different areas have yet to be fully adapted to this new reality. Difficulties may arise in the context of labour-market regulation and taxation. Since the sharing economy is a relatively new phenomenon, there is considerable uncertainty about which regulatory provisions apply and how rules should be interpreted. The Committee therefore identified a need to provide better information on rights and duties in the sharing economy.
Detailed overview of the Committee’s proposals
The Committee proposed the following general measure:
• That an information portal be established to provide consumers, platforms and service providers with information on rights and obligations in the sharing economy.
As regards the labour market, a majority concluded that the sharing economy does not challenge the term “employee” in a manner that cannot be dealt with by the current Working Environment Act. The majority also considered that current national insurance and pension schemes for self-employed persons are well-founded, and that self-employed persons do not have poorer rights than justified by the national insurance contributions and taxes paid by this group. The majority therefore proposed no changes to the Working Environment Act or the national insurance and pension rights of self-employed persons.
A second majority proposed:
• That service providers in the sharing economy who do not set selling prices directly, and have to comply with prices set by the platform that is used, should have the opportunity to negotiate collective agreements with platform operators, even if they cannot be deemed to be employees.
In the area of consumer protection, the Committee proposed:
• That authorities and sharing platforms engage in dialogue on the development of industry standards and best practice in the consumer protection field.
• If dialogue with sharing economy companies on industry standards is unsuccessful, the Committee recommended that the consumer authorities should issue guidelines.
• The mediation service of the Norwegian Consumer Council should be expanded to include service purchases between private persons.
In the area of transportation, a majority proposed the following changes:
• That the current duty to hold a licence be repealed for persons who wish to operate or provide remunerated taxi transportation using a personal vehicle. This will also entail repeal of the system of needs assessment of the number of taxi licences and the duty to operate.
• The repeal of several other regulatory provisions, including maximum price regulation and the duty for licence holders to have taxi transportation as their primary occupation. Certain minimum requirements applicable to individual drivers should be retained, such as the good repute requirement.
• Rules should be introduced to ensure that information on trips and prices is registered and stored, but the requirements must be formulated to be technology neutral. The purpose of the rules is to ensure passenger safety and the provision of price information, and that the tax authorities receive relevant information.
• That a duty be introduced to quote prices in advance in the booking segment.
In the accommodation sector, the Committee found no grounds to propose changes to the housing standards applicable to private rentals. To ensure that sharing economy companies contribute to, among other things, travel industry statistics, the Committee proposed:
• That consideration be given to whether Statistics Norway should be given stronger legal authority to gather data from sharing economy platforms.
To ensure that participants in the sharing economy pay taxes on an equal footing with others, the Committee proposed the following measures:
• The Norwegian Tax Administration should maintain and develop guidance that clarifies the rules on taxes relevant to participants in the sharing economy.
• Digital technology should be used for reporting, control and guidance functions. Digital solutions should be open to all relevant users.
• A disclosure duty should be introduced for data-holders who enable or facilitate rentals or paid services via digital platforms.
• Consideration should be given to simplified tax treatment of small incomes from services, including service provision that would not otherwise be taxed.
• If a licence is no longer to be required in order to provide taxi services, as proposed by a Committee majority, it will be necessary to revise the tax treatment of personal cars used for occupational purposes. Taxis currently enjoy certain tax reliefs.
A majority also proposed the following:
• That income from short-term rental of private homes be made taxable. Such incomes are currently tax-exempt if the rental income amounts to less than half of the rental value of the property. The committee has not proposed changes in the tax treatment of income from long-term rentals of private homes.