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.