Today I’m a little angry. More than a little, in fact. Here’s why:
Long-term readers may be aware that I rent my house, from a Housing Association, with my partner – the famous Mrs Mike. She has long-term disability issues affecting both her physical and mental health. She is, in fact, due to go into hospital tomorrow for a carpal tunnel operation.
This is an operation on her wrists, after which she will not be able to use her hand for 24 hours or so. It will be strapped to her body and she will need my help to do certain ordinary household things. She will also need a warm, comfortable environment in which to recuperate.
When I discovered on Friday afternoon that a pipe had burst under the bathroom floor and our boiler wasn’t working, I was not worried. I had been to the gym and was just about to step into the shower when I realised the water was ice-cold. Checking the boiler showed it had depressurised down to nothing and attempts to repressurise it failed. Then Mrs Mike told me there was a wet stain on the kitchen ceiling (directly below the bathroom) and we realised something serious had happened.
Not to worry – our Housing Association operates a within-24-hour call-out service for emergency repairs. This means, once we’ve called them out, they must get to us and perform the repair within 24 hours of the call. So we called, between 3 and 4pm on Friday.
Aaaaaaand we’re still waiting.
We started relying on friends and neighbours for fresh water straight away, at first filling saucepans and then slowly accumulating larger containers. Heat became a problem very quickly, though. By mid-afternoon yesterday (when the job should have been done, it was warmer outside the house than in it.
Luckily, and by a complete coincidence, another friend was able to offer us two heaters, when I mentioned the problem during a conversation about her Work Capability Assessment (she’s been put in the work-related activity group and rightly intends to appeal, using my article about Mrs Mike’s experiences for support as she has the same condition).
I phoned the Housing Association’s out-of-hours service at 4pm yesterday to ask what was going on. Of course they didn’t know, and promised to chase up the repair man and then give me a revised time of arrival. So I waited an hour and then called again. Bear in mind that it was now 5pm on a Saturday. The woman at the other end said she was very sorry but the repair man seemed to be out of range on his mobile but she would call me back. She never called me back.
Out of range! He’d gone home, hadn’t he? Never mind the fact that people were without basic services – water and heat – and he was contractually obliged to restore them. Nothing was going to stop him enjoying his Saturday evening!
This morning Mrs Mike was on the phone to them before I had managed to lever myself out of my not-very-warm bed and into the freezing bedroom. By the time I did manage to get myself vertical, she’d had a response that the man would be here between 11.30am and midday. It is now 12.35pm.
This is the kind of service for which poor people, and those on benefits, are being told they must pay more.
Let’s all just think about that, for a moment. When you’re on benefit – or on low-paid work, which is my current position – you can’t afford a mansion and you can’t afford to have dedicated people on hand, day and night, to fix every slightest problem. You know that. However, there are still rules that should be met, even on the lowest rung of the housing ladder, and the fact is that these rules are being broken all the time.
I write from experience. Back in the very bad winter of 2010-11, we were without water for a whole week because the repair people from the same housing association couldn’t be bothered to come all the way from Wolverhampton (or wherever they were based) to Llandrindod Wells. The rules state that it doesn’t matter where the company has its properties – wherever they are, they must enjoy the same services – guaranteed.
We got a not-very-large compensation payment after that little debacle, and a promise it wouldn’t happen again.
Now it’s happening again.
A man turned up on the doorstep as I was typing ‘again’ – the wrong man, as it happens.
The housing association phoned him up, told him a load of rubbish that it was a problem with the boiler and sent him here – it’s a problem with the pipes, and a completely different company is responsible. He reckoned he’d been told the contractor – who should have been asked to fix the problem – had been! As you can imagine, Mrs Mike let loose with a stream in invective that would make hardened soldiers blanch. Fortunately the guy took it all in-stride and is seeing what he can do to at least identify the true nature of the problem.
The point, of course, is that the government’s legislation, demanding that poor people pay more, doesn’t take account of the fact that the service poor people receive is appallingly bad. And there will be no proper regulation of it because Conservatives don’t believe in regulation. Their attitude is libertarian – you negotiate a service and pay for what you get – without taking into account the reality that the service negotiated is rarely the service received. The lack of regulation means there is no mechanism to guarantee improvement, which is why I, together with Mrs Mike, am facing the exact same situation we had two years ago.
The housing association recently refitted our bathroom, too. The nice new flooring they put down will probably have to be ripped up in order to replace the pipe. Who knows what kind of a mess we’ll have afterwards?
Considering all of the above, why should we pay more for a service that is worse?
Social housing? More like ANTI-social housing.