Bath and North East Somerset Council have voted in favour of a motion that raised the question of whether student accommodation landlords should pay council tax or business rates.
After a lengthy discussion the motion, which was proposed by Councillor June Player (Ind, Westmoreland) was passed and will now be discussed at a Policy Development and Scrutiny Panel.
This was a slight change from Councillor Player’s original motion that questioned whether students themselves should pay council tax.
According to Gov.uk and the Bath and North East Somerset Council’s website, bathimpact estimates that this motion could potentially add up to £2,500 extra a year, depending on your tax band, to student costs.
The motion was supported by the Independents, the Labour group and the Conservative group, whilst all Liberal Democrat Councillors voted against.
Liberal Democrat Councillor David Martin (Bathwick) said on the vote, “We did not feel able to support this motion; the intention driving it was not supportive of the student community in Bath and North East Somerset.
“We are very proud of Bath and North East Somerset’s Universities and Colleges and we welcome students as part of our community – particularly the contribution they make to the vibrancy and economy of our area.
“We do support the suggestion that the government should be asked to consider the needs of Councils with large student populations when allocating grant funding. However, any suggestion that council tax should be charged on HMOs is not welcome as, clearly, the costs would fall on the tenants.”
Councillor Player’s motion was based around the fact that 7% of Bath dwellings are occupied by student HMO’s, significantly higher than most other towns or cities, and this land could be used to generate employment land or new housing which would generate an income to the Council.
However, when contacted by bathimpact, Councillor Player argued that the motion has been misinterpreted, stating “The impact on students will be absolutely zilch. Nobody listened to what I said and if you read the motion, I am saying that business owners [letting companies and landlords] should pay business rates. I understand and work with students, so I’m not going to throw this at them”.
When asked whether there was a risk that landlords would pass the costs on to students, Councillor Player admitted that this might be the case. “There might be, we will have to deal with it when we get to it. But it is the businesses, and these are big businesses, who are raking in the money. I never said that students should have to bear the costs.”
She was also scathing in her comments regarding the Liberal Democrats opposition of the motion, “[they] did not read it through properly, something which I find quite concerning. If I am correct in thinking, it was the Liberal Democrats who raised tuition fees, and it seems that they are using this issue as a scapegoat”.
Labour Councillors were also in support of the motion, with Councillor John Bull (Paulton) claiming “I agree with June that it is an anomaly that unlike other businesses, student accommodation providers do not have to pay to the costs of services which they benefit from.”
Immediately following the vote, Student’s Union President Jordan Kenny said, “This motion is a clear initial attack on students studying in Bath and shows a disgusting lack of regards for the approximately 22,000 student residents of Bath. The SU Officers and I will be meeting to discuss an official response to this motion, and develop a plan of action to fight any further developments around this”.
Student’s Union Community Officer Tommy Parker said on the vote, “”I am bitterly disappointed in the motion that passed, this was a blatant attack on students at a time when students already face high financial pressures.
“Although this motion only means asking the MP to ask for it nationally this still shows a lack of commitment on the council’s part to listen to the student voice. My hope is that this move will politicise students and get them involved with the local election coming up and I hope students take this motion into account when voting.”
The minutes covering the motion can be viewed here.
Photo credit: mendhak (flickr user) and twitter