A consultation on HMO numbers in St Andrews has been branded biased in favour of students.
A group of residents trying to stop the spread of houses of multiple occupation (HMOs) in the historic town fear an anomaly in an online questionnaire will give university students an unfair say.
Richard Olver from the Confederation of St Andrews Residents’ Associations said those living in the town year round had been given a unique reference number to key in to ensure each household only had one vote.
Students wishing to give their views have been given no such number, meaning they are able to vote as many times as they wish.
While the council has insisted the data will be vigorously checked and duplicate names rejected, Professor Olver fears the process is open to abuse.
“Anyone with internet access, literally anyone, can go straight to the options, select one and get a unique confirmation number,” he said.
The local authority is consulting on two options for regulating HMO numbers in St Andrews – a 3% growth or no growth at all.
The aim is to reduce pressure on accommodation in the town while also addressing the housing needs of students.
There are currently around 1,000 HMOs in Fife, 860 of which are in St Andrews.
More than a quarter of St Andrews residents currently live in them.
Prof Olver said: “The rental market in St Andrews is distorted by a dominant player, the university, which provides accommodation for only 50% of its 9,000 enrolled students, leaving the remainder to look for accommodation in private HMOs.”
He added: “This consultation has added to our concern that the residents are not on a level playing field with students, who deserve good quality accommodation, but not at the expense of family homes.”
Fife Council housing services manager Vania Kennedy said the results of the consultation would form part of the background information given to councillors, who would then decide on the issue.
“It was not possible to issue students with a unique code as we do not have access to student details in the way we do with householders,” she said.
“The data will be vigorously checked and any duplicate names will be rejected, as will addresses from outwith the St Andrews data zones.
“Addresses will also be checked to ensure that each household has only one response, unless from an existing HMO.
“Even those will be checked to make sure there are no unusually high responses.”
The consultation has been extended by six days and will now run until February 28.