Fife Council’s policy and co-ordination committee recently made the decision to change HMO regulations within Fife Council’s region. This policy included increasing the University of St Andrews HMO fees from £54,000 every three years to £512,000 every three years.
This policy, that will be implemented all over Fife, has been criticised by many as unfairly targeting St Andrews. The policy and co-ordination committee itself does not have a counsellor sitting on it from the St Andrews area, despite the efforts from many of the councillors representing the town, including Jane Ann Liston, who voiced that being a part of this group would enable the StA ndrews councillors to “catch potentially problematic issues early”.
Last week, within the Student Union, a motion proposed by Students’ Association President Jamie Rodney opposing the increase of HMO fees by Fife Council was unanimously passed by the Students’Representative Council. The motion was seconded by the Students’ Association Director of Wellbeing, Flora Smith.
According to the motion, 85% of this fee 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 submitted by the University found that the cost to Fife Council of renewing all of the University’s HMOs was approximately £80,000, which is £26,000 more than what the University currently pays. However, the policy change will see the University paying up to £432,000 more than renewing the HMO license will actually cost.
A spokesperson for the University told The Saint that they have no option but to commission legal opinion, deeming the Council’s decision “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.
“Within 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 council has now offered to talk to us, but these discussions have yet to take place. Meantime, we have been left with no option but to commission legal opinion.”
In an open letter attached to the motion from the Student Union 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 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.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. This policy was intended to motivate the University to build more affordable Student accommodation, instead of taking up more local pre-existing properties.
Speaking to The Saint, Mr Rodney described the policy which affects the increase to University HMO fees as confusing when paired with their previous decision to reject the proposal to increase the amount of HMO licenses in St Andrews.
Mr Rodney voiced that this is not a “town versus gown” situation, but instead is a policy which “is not intended to be malicious but is not well informed and on implementation will affect the social fabric both for locals and for students. And if both locals and students make their local representatives aware of how big an issue it is then that is our best chance in preventing this 800% rise in HMO.”
Mr Rodney also wanted to reiterate that he has not overlooked the other problems facing the increasing prices for students rent in St Andrews. He claims that just because the Union is currently focusing on the HMO 800% increase issue does not mean they have forgotten about the other issues.
Finally, Mr Rodney stressed the importance that the individual student can have on this policy decision.“Sign the open letter, email your Fife Councillors, your MSP, and MPs, and particularly if you have friends who are locals, it is really important that you speak to them as well, because it doesn’t just affect students.”