Worrying evidence has emerged of the possibility that the the current consultation on limiting the numbers of HMOs in St Andrews is open to abuse.
Forms have been sent to all households in St Andrews, one per household, including private and University student HMOs, but there seems to be nothing to stop a student from an HMO also voting on-line since no unique identifier is required. In fact, it emerges that anyone with internet access can vote via the student consultation since there are no required fields – it is possible to click through to the options page, select an option and then receive a unique confirmation reference number. And there is nothing to stop repeat voting.
While every student will be able to vote (on-line and on paper), less than half the residents will have that right since there is only one vote per household and, on average, households have 2 or more adult members.
Responding to residents’ concerns, Housing Services Vania Kennedy said “The Council has invited responses to three separate surveys on HMOs in St Andrews – from residents, students and local organisations. The residents’ survey was issued to households living in St Andrews, excluding properties owned by the University of St Andrews.”
“The students’ survey was sent via the Students’ Union to individual students. The organisation survey was issued to businesses, groups and other stakeholders in the town. All three surveys involve slightly different approaches and for that reason it is not intended to combine the survey results into a single analysis – the number of student responses will not impact on numbers responding within the residents’ survey and vice-versa. When Elected Members consider the results from the surveys they will be provided separately within the Committee report.”
Speaking on behalf of the Confederation of St Andrews Residents’ Associations, Professor Richard Olver said, “There may be no intention to analyse the consultation as a referendum but many will see it as such and if there is a substantial majority in the student survey favouring a 3% increase, there will be huge pressure from the student body, no doubt backed by the university, for it to be accepted as policy.”
“The fact that the student vote can be manipulated and the the lack of effective checks on the student consultation scarcely generates confidence in the process overall.”