An anecdotal story. Some people will know that more than a decade ago we set up our own TMO (Tenant Management Organisation) in order to manage three council owned tower blocks of 146 two bedroom flats, in the Hornchurch area of East London. Over the last year or so we have seen a growing number of our single tenants fall victim to Ian Duncan Smith’s bedroom tax, alongside changes to the benefits system. Despite the Council not having anywhere near enough one bedroom properties for these single people to down-size into, the tax has forced a number of good tenants to rack up large rent arrears, and create real stress and worry as to their individual future.
One example was Susan (not her real name) who had lived on our estate for over twenty years. She was in her forties when her Mum died and so Susan succeeded to the tenancy of the flat. Susan, was working only part time and was on a zero hours contract with a local businessman who paid the minimum wage for sometimes five hours a week, sometimes such as at Christmas or Bank Holidays more. Susan was a model tenant – she was a long serving member of our committee and always ready to help anyone, giving both her time and energy to help us improve the estate in general.
As we manage the estate on behalf of the Council, we were shocked when informed that the Council had over the past six months written to Susan about her large and mounting rent arrears. As is usual in all rent arrears cases the Council called the tenant in for a “formal” one to one interview where they (the Council) try to reach an agreement with the debtor as to the amount of rent they have to pay as well as how much they will pay off of the arrears each week or month.
I know Susan was extremely worried over that formal meeting with the Council and rather foolishly agreed to pay off £2.00 a week until the arrears were settled. She told me that she thought she could just about manage that much if she cut right back on her heating, lighting and food. Within just a few months she became haggard and gaunt as well as becoming depressed. Of course she did not sustain her debt payment agreement and so the Council issued a NOSP (Notice of Seeking Possession) order against her.
In Court the Judge was uninterested in her personal employment difficulties and ordered that she should continue to honour the agreement that she had made with the Council, warning her that if she defied his order he would have no hesitation in granting the Council an outright repossession order.
Despite pleading with her boss for extra work, in fact her work hours got reduced, and the Council went back to Court. We were told to have a carpenter and locksmith on standby as the Bailiffs had been instructed to evict Susan. The appointed date and time was reached and what few possessions she was allowed to keep she took with her. The last we heard from Susan was that she was now living uncomfortably with her sister and sleeping on her settee.