Fife Council’s fee structure has not been updated since 2006 and the council claims that, increasingly, fees have lagged behind costs. The new structure takes into account the number of occupants per HMO and the resources spent on each application.
As a result, the council is now charging the university £512,000 every three years for the licences, up from £52,000. One of the main points of contention is that at David Russell Apartments, Fife Council used to charge for each block but now it charges a fee for each flat. Fife Council justifies this on the basis that, while the apartments have a similar footprint, property condition and health and safety issues can differ.
The University, students, a councillor and community council have all voiced their concerns about the rise in fees, suggesting that it could lead to students being priced out of university accommodation and moving into private housing.
A spokesman for the University of St Andrews said: “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 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.”
The Students’ Representative Council backed a motion recently arguing that the rise is bad for both students and residents, that it will lead to greater competition for rented flats and, that while the group are not against a rise in fees, the method is ‘unfair’ and ‘unhelpful’.
“I want to make very clear that we’re not attacking Fife Council over their HMO policy but rather how it’s been implemented,” said Jamie Rodney, president of the Students’ Association. By unilaterally redefining what counts as an HMO to increase the university HMO fee, Fife Council has made life harder for students by increasing their rent costs, and for locals who will now have to deal with even more students moving out of halls and looking for private flats, and the whole of St Andrews, which is already struggling with huge rent pressure.”
Councillor Dominic Nolan, who previously opposed moves to prevent more family homes being converted into HMOs, said the fee “risks inflating the costs of halls”, adding: “The result will be to push students towards alternative forms of accommodation and put even greater strain on the town’s already limited housing stock. The university and Fife Council must come to some arrangement on this issue.”
Vania Kennedy, housing service manager, said: “Fife Council’s fees are in line with those charged by other councils with a high number of HMOs. The council is working with the University of St Andrews in developing a robust maintenance approach, with a view to broadening the sampling regime at a future point.
“The costs of HMO licensing represent a small percentage of the income that HMO owners will receive through rents and there should be no need to pass on the increase in HMO fees to occupants through rent increases. This is entirely at the discretion of individual HMO owners.”