About five years ago, the Council contacted me to ask if I knew Bill xxxx (a tenant living on our estate) and that if I did could I urgently contact him as he was thousands of pounds in rent arrears and the Council was about to take Court action to re-possess his flat.
Well I did speak to Bill one evening later that week and explained how serious his position was and how his continued status as a resident was in imminent jeopardy. He in turn expressed his shock and wanted to know why no one had told him about his arrears? I said “he would have had numerous letters from the Council” – he confessed that he never opened any letters as he could neither read or write!
Some eighteen months later a further phone call from the Council told me that Bill had now gone from thousands of arrears into hundreds over the rent he should pay for his tenancy. I have no idea how he managed to get to that point as he was a very private man in his sixties with no family and even less friends that I knew about.
In 2012 both Bill and I bumped into each other in the pub JJ Moons and out of politeness I asked how he was managing? I was told “other letters and notes had been pinned to his front door and he had no idea why or what the messages meant”, so I arranged to see him at his flat the next day. The hallway was cluttered with old washing machines and the living room had some hard dining room type chairs as well as a battered old horse hair settee. After looking through a three foot pile of correspondence chucked on the floor I explained that the Council HAD to service his gas boiler and once again if he refused to allow access to his flat by the gas engineers – he would be taken to Court and he could lose his flat! This time I really was shocked to learn that Bill never ever used any Gas or Electricity as no one had told him how to turn either on. “How do you make yourself a cup of tea” I asked – he simply replied he didn’t drink tea and he could eat and drink in the cafe. I offered to take his gas card and electric key to the local shop to get some credit put on both – but was refused on the grounds that “he neither wanted nor needed such luxuries”.
I confess that Bill was firmly stuck on a shelf in my mind that labelled him a complete ‘eccentric’ and further months drifted by without me giving a second thought to the old boy.
Then just this week his next door neighbour came into the office to complain her flat had acquired an awful stink! On investigation, I knew by the smell “Cabbages & kings” that a dead man lay behind the smell.
Organising Medics, Police, Locksmith and our Estate Manager Jim to be in attendance – Jamie (the locksmith) took no time to drill the front door lock. Which as soon as it opened the stench of “cabbages & kings” was overwhelming and both the paramedic as well as the police officer gagged at entering the flat.
We learned later that Bill had died some weeks earlier in his front room and had deteriorated to such an extent that his hands had turned black and maggots were coming out of various places on his body.
As is the case in these sorts of situations, the Coroner’s office had to be involved as it is my understanding that Bill had no living relatives and his earthly remains would be disposed of in a pauper’s grave. But, over the next few weeks an officer from the Coroner’s office will be investigating his life to determine what assets he had if any.
It’s a sad fact that Bill came and went from this estate where I like to think we care about our residents but clearly in Bills case he slipped through our net.
Just so he won’t be entirely alone at his funeral I will attend. Mike.