Myles’ Blog: “Heating leaving me cold”

THE BURNING question of the day is – does Thurrock Council actually do right by its tenants? The answer has to be a resounding NO. At least, that is my opinion and my experience of my dealings with them.

If anyone can actually remember that far back, you may remember my column back in November 2009 when I wrote about the trouble I had with a faulty immersion heater. Well, the trouble has returned, not the same trouble as last time but trouble nonetheless. This time, the immersion heater sprung a leak, quite a major one at that. The council’s Repair Department were informed on Monday 28th March and a contractor was duly sent out to survey the problem. No problem there you may say but it was what happened afterwards that gives me and, I have no doubt, other council tenants cause for concern should it happen to them. The contractor left, having told us to put a bucket under the tank, assuring us that he would contact the repairs department telling them of the leaky tank – he lied. He actually told the Repairs Department that the tank was fine, at least that is what my wife was told when she rang the council to find out if a repairman would be coming to fix it.

Move ahead to Wednesday 30th March and a repairman turned up to drain the tank so that it could be repaired or removed. I have to say at this juncture that this gentleman is the only person in this mess that is entirely blameless for being unable to help. The outlet valve was, you see, too hard to unscrew and, with extremely hot water within the tank liable to spurt out in a scorching torrent, would have been unwise to even try to open. Thankfully, that meant we had hot water that night as we had to wait for the water inside to cool enough to try to drain the tank. That evening, I called the council to ensure that the immersion tank would be replaced the next day and I was given assurances by the man on the telephone that it would all be sorted.

Move ahead to Thursday 31st March and, oh yes, the tank was drained but we were informed that the tank would not be replaced for at least a week. When my wife asked what we were meant to do for hot water in the meantime, the woman on the telephone told her to ‘boil a kettle’ – hardly the most helpful advice. I was angry to say the least. Now, being the type of man I am, I demanded to see the managers of the Repair and Complaints Departments. Did I get to see them? Of course not. They weren’t at the council offices and, because of that fact, no decision could be made as to whether a substitute immersion heater could be installed. The gentleman who drained the old tank has also neglected to measure the tank to see if any were available ‘off the shelf’ so we therefore had to wait for a second man to come to take the details of the tank. That should have been the end of it, right? Of course not. The second gentleman told my wife that the immersion heaters that are installed in the council flats are made-to-measure and, therefore, not readily available. He informed my wife that the last unit that had to be ordered took five weeks to be delivered. Now I ask you – is that really a satisfactory situation? Shouldn’t Thurrock Council have considered the fact that immersion tanks sometimes spring a leak or breakdown in some form? Shouldn’t they have had a few spare units ready in case of this kind of eventuality?

Not everyone has the ability or the nerve to speak their mind as I do – what is to become of them in a situation such as this? Thurrock Council has shown, once again, a total disregard for their tenants and their role as landlord. We do not live in a third world country. We are used to the odd inconvenience but hot water is not a luxury especially if you are suffering from an illness that can be made worse from being forced to have cold baths. If the council is going to be so blasé about something as simple as providing hot water, what else are they being blasé about and how serious a matter is it?

A letter was circulated about the increase in rent charges for council properties, which included a statement about the Decent Homes Standards and how well Thurrock Council are doing on that score but, let me assure you, they are not doing as well as they claim. Several flats in my block alone suffer from a mould problem because of a lack of ventilation in the bathroom. Mould can cause several different health problems, some of which can be quite serious if you have poor health or a compromised immune system. Doors on kitchen cupboards are frequently a problem with hinges that would have looked at home on Noah’s Ark causing doors to come off in your hand. Unfinished areas of skirting board. Drafts from holes in the walls. The list of problems or areas of concern goes on and, when the council is informed, the job is either half done or ignored.

The increase in rent charges also mentions an average increase of 6.69% on last year’s charge. The actual increase for my flat was 10.8% and this is for a flat with more problems than a crocodile with periodontitis. So, if Thurrock Council really thinks it’s doing well on the Decent Homes Standards, how come there are so many problems that are left unattended or half done? Why does it take so long to sort out the simple matter of replacing a leaking immersion heater? Why have they seemingly forgotten the universal truth that entropy wins every time and that they should be prepared for that eventuality? Why? Because they don’t care. They treat their tenants with disinterest. They treat their tenants as a mild annoyance, to be fleeced for rent charges that do not reflect the quality of the homes they provide. The only reason people continue to live in these homes is that they cannot afford to live anywhere else and it’s preferable to living out on the streets – just.

It should not take a battle to get things done. It should not take the threat of making concerns public to get things done. Thurrock Council should take a long, hard look at the real state of the homes they are responsible for and the lack of replacement units available when entropy takes its toll on the fitted equipment.

I know that if any councillors read this, their first response will be to say that, because of the cut in funding from central Government, we face hard choices and difficult challenges. Well, I have news for you – so do your tenants. All we ask is that the homes we rent from you are really worth the money you are charging us and, if there are problems, they are sorted out quickly and efficiently without the need to turn every complaint into a battle. We have to rent social housing properties because we have no other choice but we still deserve good quality housing. Get your act together, Thurrock Council!

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