On 4 February, a motion proposed by Students’ Association President Jamie Rodney opposing an increase of almost 800 percent on University of St Andrews HMO fees by Fife Council was unanimously passed by the Students’ Representative Council.
The motion was seconded by Students’ Association Director of Wellbeing, Flora Smith, Association Community Relations Officer, Morgan Morris and Member for First Years, Polina Sevastyanova.
Fife Council recently increased the University’s HMO fee from £54,000 every three years to £512,000 every three years, a sum of which will be paid by students living in University hall accommodation. According to the motion, 85 percent of this increase stems from the Council’s decision to treat each individual flat, rather than each block, in University student halls David Russell Apartments (DRA), as a separate HMO.
The motion outlines that the Statutory Guidance for Scottish Local Authorities (Licensing HMOs) states that the Provision of Services Regulations 2009 require that fees charged in relation to a licensing regime must be reasonable and proportionate to, but not exceed the costs of all procedures required to carry out the renewal of University HMOs. A Freedom of Information request by the University found that the cost to Fife Council of renewing all of the University’s HMOs was approximately £80,000. In an open letter attached to the motion condemning the decision, it is claimed that this “distortion” of HMO fees for some properties will make Fife Council “a significant profit at our expense”. The open letter maintains that “not only is the huge size of the increase problematic in itself, but the way it has been calculated is totally unfair.”
The open letter outlines the potentially disastrous consequences of the fee increase, claiming “It will do further damage to community cohesion, and make it even more difficult for young people to afford to live here. At a time when both students and local residents are crying out for cheaper accommodation, this places extra costs and barriers on everyone, whether living in halls or rented accommodation.”
There are around 1,200 HMOs in Fife and nearly 86% of these are located in St Andrews. In April, Fife Council rejected proposals to increase the amount of HMO licenses in St Andrews.
The motion mentioned several members of the St Andrews community who condemn the Council’s decision, including Srdja Popovic, Rector of the University of St Andrews, who referred to the fee increase as “ridiculous, an absolutely terrible idea.” The Royal Burgh of St Andrews Community Council has condemned the decision by Fife Council as “bizzare and irresponsible”. In addition to this, the Senior Students of every University hall of residence in St Andrews oppose the changes and Fife Councillors Dominic Nolan and Jane Ann Liston condemn the decision.
Speaking to The Saint, Mr Rodney said “I think it’s important to note that this isn’t a case of town vs gown, or even of the Students’ Association attacking Fife Council’s HMO policy. This is a case of Fife Council making St Andrews harder to live in for locals and students alike, unilaterally redefining what counts as an HMO in order to increase already high rents.
“If this happens in DRA, then it can happen in ABH, Whitehorn, Albany Park when it gets built, and pretty much any self-catered, flat- style accommodation. If you’re a student living in halls, it means higher rent. If you live outside of halls, whether as a local or student, it means more competition and greater rent pressure, as more people are priced out of halls.”
Mr Rodney condemns the unprofessionalism he was met with when attempting to voice his concerns to the Council. “When myself and the St Andrews Community Council raised this issue with the head of housing at Fife Council, the only response to my concerns was a three line email in which he referred to me as “Rodney” and chided me for raising the issue in what he saw as inappropriate forums, instead of answering the points made in the letter. As a result, we feel we have no choice but to campaign for this unfair fee increase to be halted.”
A spokesperson for the University told The Saint that while waiting for discussions with Fife Council to commence, they have no option but to commission legal opinion on the matter, deeming the Council’s actions as “inexplicable.”
“For several months, we have been quietly asking Fife Council to explain and justify this sudden move to impose a massive rise in fees. We have also repeatedly sought a sensible resolution. To date, they have been unable or unwilling to do so. In these circumstances, the anger of our students is entirely understandable.
“To our students it appears that the council is effectively seeking to fill its own pockets, damage a key local employer and inhibit our ability to provide affordable housing for our students. It is inexplicable.”
The motion opposing the fee increase states that the SRC will endorse and encourage students to sign an open letter attached to the motion as well as joining the Community Council and the University of St Andrews in expressing its opposition to the fee increase.
Students can sign this open letter protesting the fee increase here: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLScSeaTzJLRRUVLmuIGocJ21bEhK1I9Ze56OeF64CElIzL2gyQ/viewform?fbclid=IwAR0mF507-XuhJAMqaUChzU_pwh5od2vRybzSa6fO3yR3JpyKzk0Bt2QrqWo