Thamesmead Residents

I was alerted to a local residents group recently when I had a look at Twitter. Shortly afterwards I received a letter through my door inviting me to come and join a protest.

Thamesmead is interesting in that while we pay council tax, we are also subjected to charges from the local housing association. I was not particularly thrilled when I found this out, but apparently my deed of ownership on my house makes me liable for the charges. When I was first asked to pay I went through a lengthy process of establishing the correct amount as Gallions tried to charge me for time before I was in the property, but it’s been sorted and I’m close to paying the final installment of the arrears.

When I went to see details of the plans for regenerating south Thamesmead I was told a bit more about the background. I agree that it is bizarre that I pay Bexley Council for my council tax charges, and then have to pay somebody else for essentially the same upkeep. However a quirk of the way the area has been dealt with and changed hands makes this necessary. The local MP, Theresa Pearce, is doing some work to see what can be done – a reduction in council tax would be nice, but while my council tax bill covers refuse issues on roads 5 minutes walk from my house, if a paving slab outside my garden needs repairing, it’s Gallions who are called into action. I do wish they’d do a better job of clearing up broken glass instead of apparently putting all their effort into whitewashing graffiti art, but there you go.

While I do begrudge this double payment a little, I can afford it and I want the area to see good levels of upkeep, so I’m making the choice to pay up. People at Thamesmead Residents, however, are refusing to pay and encouraging others to do likewise. Tonight they plan a peaceful protest outside The Link where there is going to be a public meeting with Bexley Council and Gallions in attendance. The group are keen to point out that sometimes residents are charged different amounts, that charges were overturned in the 90s.

I applaud the group for standing up and making their voices heard, but I’m not sure there’s the outcry they believe there is. I notice that the minutes of their last meeting highlight a lack of attendance, and while their Twitter account follows hundreds, less than 70 people have followed them back. I wonder how many people will actually be picketting the meeting and waving a placard tonight. Similarly, I find it hard to take somebody seriously when they embody outrage and encourage me to fill in a questionnaire that repeatedly asks “Where you told” about the charges, and the stories they publish from other residents are barely comprehensible due to a poor grasp of grammar:

This is not a fair charge as i pay council tax the so called charge is incorporated within the rent which is paid for by housing benefit, for those on benefit, so as a home owner and a tax payer paying income tax,corporation tax.council tax, I am already paying. It,is their land not mine GHA do not contribute to the up keep of my land or freehold as I the freeholder am responsible for.

Call me a snob if you like, it wouldn’t be entirely misplaced, and I do have some sympathy, but I will be surprised if these protests achieve anything much. And if they do… well, then what? If I get a reduction in upkeep costs to on my council tax, surely I’ll see hikes elsewhere as I have no doubt Bexley is spending that money. If Gallions are banned from charging me then who is going to cover the cost of the people who fixed the pavement, or the man who drives a little sweeping machine and gets rid of the leaf-fall outside my property? Will anyone ever make the roads stop flooding whenever there’s rain? I’d love to stop paying for things, but I accept that it does appear to be necessary. Help for those on benefits should probably be considered, though.

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4 Responses to Thamesmead Residents

  1. Morgan Elliott says:

    Max,
    It seems that you argument here, put simply, is that you are able to afford to pay the service charge and think that others should too. But there are several other features of this argument that you have completely discounted, perhaps ignored because they do not impact on your life.
    Firstly, you seem to be very out of touch with the area. People in this area are often struggling to get by. The economic climate at the moment is not favourable to many (obviously yourself excluded) and people are doing to best they can. You yourself stated that you “were not thrilled” about having to pay the service charge when you first found out about it. As you stated that you can afford it, imagine or attempt to empathise with those who are not in the financially comfortable position you are.
    You have accepted these charges because and I quote “apparently my deed of ownership on my house makes me liable for the charges”. What your article seems to argue is that you have accepted these charges because you were told to, yet you are highly critical of those who dare to question the authority, that would ultimately be benefiting from the receipt of these charges. In my mind, these are the individuals acting in a prudent manner.
    As for the group only asking the question “were you told”, let me share the story of my mother-in-law. She is a very hard working woman, who when able, purchased the home she was renting in Thamesmead. She was never informed of a service charge but rather informed that she was to pay for heating and hot water, when these services were no longer provided no further charges were paid. It seems that these charges have morphed into charges for upkeep that would ordinarily be provided by the council through typical council taxes.
    Next let’s discuss the modern government’s policy of outsourcing public services. It has been held for many years that it is in the best interests of the general public to outsource public services e.g. prison management and the introduction of academy schools. The management of Thamesmead was therefore passed over to Gallions. For the privilege, Gallions are given the money from council taxes to provide the services that should be provided by the council. It seems to me that Gallions are attempting to double dip, receiving money from the council then, hitting residents with extra charges to undertake the same job. If Gallions are attempting to improve the image of the area (I may be cynical here) it will be to their benefit, as they would be able to increase prices of rental properties etc.
    Lastly, I think it is important to respond to your clear arrogance and snobbery towards the people of Thamesmead. Maybe not everyone is as articulate as you are however everyone has the right to free speech. You may not like what is being said but typically its best to attack the arguments that are being made rather than the expression used to make them. You seem to have confused intelligence with the ability to write beautifully. These people have valid arguments and the right to voice them. I don’t agree with attacking people personally so I will stop here however I do need to ask one last question. My question is if these grammatically incorrect, poorly organized group of individuals are successful, are you going to continue to pay your service charge or are you going to demand the instant return of your money? I guess what I want to know is are you going to ride on the coattails of those you have been so quick to criticize?
    Morgan Elliott- (I will sign my full name to what I write)

  2. I would like to pick up,on a few points you have made. Firstly Thamesmead Residents do not have to have good grammar to have opinions. The twitter account that you checked had only been active for one week to gain 70 followers wich is pretty good going. Regarding just how many people may or may not be interested enough to turn up well there was between 80 and 100 demonstrating who all felt strongly about the bills they had been recieving, we collected 70 plus signatures on our petition.
    You are saying that this is an unfair charge and that it is bizarre to pay it to two authorities but because you can afford it you will pay it, that strikes me as bizarre that you are prepared to be walked over like that.
    By the way on the subject of grammar picketing only has one T!

  3. Lisa Dixon says:

    I have just read a book (fiction) about a family living in Thamesmead in the 80’s – thru to few years ago. It’s called The Long Shadow (which I think might be the tower blocks?) written by Denise Marshall and I have to say that if you were thinking of living there (I wasn’t but my brother and his wife were willing to consider coz of house prices) – this book would def put you off. It’s weird cos I loved the book (very sad but funny too) but it made the place seem like hell and really unsafe… Hopefully it’s better now although judging by ‘misfits’ maybe not

  4. Jenny says:

    Hope you’re going to post more in your blog…..long time since the last post……..

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