Cornwall Council’s offensive newsletter: ‘pay your rent before it’s spent’
Something pretty disturbing and offensive came through the door of my parents’ council flat on Christmas eve. It was Cornwall Council’s seemingly innocuous winter housing newsletter to all council tenants in the county. Skimming through the pages I spotted this full-page message (click on it to enlarge):
Yep, this arrived on the doorstep on Christmas eve – a message not to spend money over the festive season and instead to send all your money to the Independent/Liberal Democrat-run Cornwall Council.
It was offensive on a number of levels – not just its timing but the implicit assumption that council tenants can’t handle their own money, that people’s poverty is self-induced and that social housing tenants are reckless with their spending – no doubt on fags, booze and Sky TV in the perspective of the political right.
Not only that, but after the obligatory information about help with payments, the second half of the message is dedicated to how many people they have tried to evict since April – 29, they inform us, as well as about a hundred legal cases sent to solicitors in recent months. They also tell us that the welfare ‘reforms’ are not a valid reason for underpaying rent – the bedroom tax is apparently not an impediment to making ends meet. At least not for Cornwall Council.
Scroll down and, after you’ve got past the stuff about how likely you are to be evicted if your rent payments slip at the end of the year, the council announce they will be ‘reviewing its current policy on rent setting’ – in non-council speak, hiking rents in 2014 by between £3 and £5 a week – a significant rise. But, in their logic, this also won’t be a valid reason for falling behind on your rent. Nope, raised rents, benefit cuts and the bedroom tax aren’t the cause of difficulties – instead Christmas spending is. Reckless tenant spending is the only true source of poverty.
On a side note, the whole page is also incredibly idiotic after the national scandal that was Hammersmith & Fulham council’s ‘Christmas card‘ to their tenants:
This made national headlines and fundamentally humiliated the council – and rightfully so.
I spoke to Alex Folkes, a Lib Dem member of the council administration, who said he would ‘look into it’ after the Christmas period. But if council tenants don’t get a break from the administration, neither should the administration get a break from tax-payers, especially after this offensive slap-in-the-face was delivered a day before Christmas. As if struggling families don’t have enough to worry about.
For some reason the Cornwall Council newsletter hasn’t created such a stir (yet). But it should, and can.
If you want to let the council know your thoughts, please write to email@example.com, cc’ing in firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com or call 0300 1234 100
You can also write to:
Cornwall Housing, Cornwall Council
This piece first appeared on Josiah’s blog March the Fury.
It’s not a new thing. Rent arrears have always spiked at christmas, and councils have for decades tried to forestall this by warning tenants before the event, to try to put a bit more pressure on them to pay rent instead of other bills. Another tactic is to spread the rent over 50 weeks instead of 52, knowing that some people will skip a week here and there (the Cornwall letter mentions stopping doing this; it’s not clear why).
What is new is the scale of the problem. Arrears have rocketed since the bedroom tax came in. And that’s in a context where more people are more in debt than ever before. The letter mentions court action affecting credit scores, a recognition of the fact that so many people depend on debt just to get by.
From the point of view of the council officers sending out letters like this, there’s not a good way forward. They know that government policy is driving people deeper into poverty, they know the gatekeeping and enforcement role of the council means that they are the increasingly harsh debt collectors for the burdens imposed by government, and yet there’s no scope for them to decide not to collect the rent.
I doubt there’s many council officers who think tenants in debt can easily afford to pay rent and are just choosing not to. Most will be well aware of the grim circumstances people are in. It’s part of what makes the job more unpleasant and more stressful than it used to be. It’s better to focus the blame on the people who are knowingly creating this hardship and conflict.
Perhaps the Libdem councillor will come back with some comment regretting the tone of the letter, as though the issue is about low level staff. The issue is about the government he supports and the policies it follows, and it begins and ends there.
I doubt the article was written by councillors, more likely council officers (and Unison members). I suspect the said officers have the time between Christmas and New Year off, so Cllr Folkes won’t be able to deal with the matter until they return to work.