Dear Caroline Ansell
I haven't had a working shower for a week. I know this may seem like pretty small beer. You have bigger things to worry about. A Prime Minister dodging taxes and cutting spending. A health sectetary driving junior doctors into a routine of widely supported strikes. But don't worry, I'm not asking you to fix my shower. I'm just asking you to have a quick read of this, to help you understand why the shower is the symptom of a much wider problem.
My wife and I have lived in Eastbourne for 10 years. In that time we have lived in 9 seperate flats, some of them for less than six months. We have been driven out of flats because the ceiling collapsed and because the drain backed up and flooded the kitchen, both of which we lived with for some time before we were finally told we would have to move out. We lost gas supply (and heating and hot water as a result) during a winter so snowy the gas engineer couldn't see where to park his van. I could go on, but the point I am making is that almost every flat we have lived has been beset with problems that have denied us basic amenities. Without exception we are dependant on the variable whims of our landlords and lettings agents to be able to do anything about it. Either we have been incredibly unlucky, or this is what private renting is actually like.
Here is what happens when something goes wrong in your flat: you phone the landlord or lettings agent. They are often in no great rush because a) it isn't their flat b) this involves them having to spend money when they don't want to and c) there is nothing we can do to make them do anything at all. Often there will be a bit of dialogue between the landlord and letting agent. Sometimes the landlord is hard to get in touch with. Eventually (often off the back of you judiciously pestering) quotes will be sought. The landlord may chose the cheapest option over the best option (again, you are powerless here) and finally the work is scheduled, and you need to take some time off to be around so that it can be done. During all of this you have coped with no shower/cooker/hot water/roof and quite possibly continued to pay full rent.
I don't wish to suggest that all landlords and all lettings agents are like this, we have met exceptions in both cases. What I am saying is that there is no legal framework set up to protect tennats from the bad ones. I can stop paying rent, but then I will be in breach of tenancy and they can throw me out. I could complain to environmental health, but... I know there's a law against revenge evictions now, but I don't want to have to be the one to test it while I'm also looking for somewhere to live. There is no law requiring landlords to keep homes fit for human habitation, as you will know since you voted against it. And since you have also voted against requiring housing associations to replace the houses they sell, and against a long term plan to provide housing for future generartions the amount of housing available for the growing number of people who need it is insufficient. Not just affordable housing: any housing. All of this means that the fairly basic commodity of a house you can afford that is in a fit condition for you to live in is not something people have control over. My wife shouldn't even be in a property with this many stairs. The trouble is that we have been here longer than we have lived anywhere that hasn't been irrerperably damaged or sold out from under us. As a result we are anxious to move away in case the next place is sold or falls apart around us again.
I haven't just written this letter to have a moan at you. I noticed in one of your recent e-mails you based your concerns about academies partially on your experience as a teacher. It is entirely right and sensible that you should base your judgements in part on your own experience. But you can't have experienced everything, obviously. I don't know if you have ever been reliant on private renting in the long term. I'm supporting myself and my wife (who struggles to find work oweing to her disability) on a minimum wage. I would be very happy to meet with you and discuss what challenges that presents me in finding affordable and appropriate accomodation in Eastbourne. Please leave me a message at the bottom of the page, or get in touch with me on twitter (contact details at the foot of this blog). I am sure you want to understand aspects of the lives of your constituents that are outside your own experience, and I would be very happy to help you do that.