It’s Brighter than you think

By Professor Elemental

A story about optimism, kindess and getting your money back when you move out.

 

The world is getting darker and more cynical, rife with arguments and cruelty. Everything is getting worse all the time. It’s horrible.

It’s an easy argument to make these days, backed up with Trump, austerity, Brexit and so many other exhausting examples- you could be forgiven for thinking that we are only a few months away from everything simply collapsing into a grey sludge from which there is no escape. But while there’s no doubt that there is a stark reality to confront, it’s easy to forget that this is only part of the story. Cynicism and nastiness are loud and brash. They squat in the headlines like obstinate toads and stomp over the algorithms that decide what to show you on social media. Kindness on the other hand, is not showy, kindess doesn’t bellow what it’s doing from the rooftops about how great it is- it simply blossoms quietly, making the world a brighter place. Sometimes that blossom also bursts forth and sews seeds in unexpected places. Sometimes your own kind actions can have repercussions that you don’t even realise. To me, it’s those small acts of goodness that show that the world isn’t quite so grey as it’s being painted.

Here’s my example: My Mum. She’s very nice, but this story isn’t about that. She’s also on a low income and in the fifteen or so years that she’s lived in Brighton, she has moved house quite a bit (I am convinced there is gypsy in our bloodline somewhere)- during this time, I’ve seen quite a detailed picture of how renting has changed in Sussex. It’s been a slow creep, but as prices have gone up, and benefits have gone down- the options for those renting have reduced drastically. The buy-to-let landlords and unscrupulous agencies have grown in strength, cash and schemes to ensure that they have scraped every last penny from the people who are forced to rent from them. Increases in mysterious ‘administration fees’, short term leases, holding deposits, poor quality maintenance, and outsourcing of basic services have all worked perfectly together, to create an inescapable series of traps, all designed to fleece the tenant of their remaining money.

My Mum was no exception to these traps- as she moved out of her last place in Worthing late last year, she was hit with an outsourced inspection. This was after two days of careful cleaning and she was already a woman who kept a very clean flat, with the closest thing to a wild party being the occasional invasion from her two small grand children. The inspection highlighted bizarre and numerous flaws in the flat all of which she was expected to pay for. Outsourcing inspections is a great scheme for agencies as it allows them to rack up many more issues which they can blame the tenant for, while also washing their hands of all responsibility (and even having the temerity to say that the whole thing is independent). It’s the sort of plan that most low level super villains would be pretty proud of. 

In total the agency demanded over £500 of her deposit- an amount which she was counting on and needed desperately for her next place. I began to go back and forth, but to no avail. I looked up the legality of the whole thing (there was some useful information here: https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/housing/renting-a-home/renting-from-a-private-landlord/

), but I felt like I was on the losing side. It was then that my sister suggested I ask a friend of hers who works for the YMCA, he gave me some great guidance, particularly drawing me to the work of Solfed.

Ready to give it one last push,  I emailed the letting agency and mentioned that I would be in touch with Solfed. With no small amount of passive aggression, I also suggested it would be awful publicity for them if Solfed took the case, protested and showered them with bad publicity. The response was immediate. I was offered all the money and an apology. Solfed had got my money back without having to do a thing other than exist. Their kind actions helping other people had also helped us. And I’m pleased to say that my mum is now in the snug protection of council supported living, away from the casual cruelties of the renting system.

From this, I have two bits of useful advice if you are struggling with an unscrupulous agency when leaving a property. The first is to remember that what the agency are doing is a bluff. They will make demands because they think you will just fold and give them the money- Don’t. Question them, cut and paste legal information, demand explanations and paperwork. Show that you won’t be fobbed off. Always do this politely and be sure to say your pleases and thank you’s (the moment you show anger or make actual threats, you have lost entirely). This approach will work wonders…and even if it doesn’t you can have a great deal of satisfaction taking up their working day having to answer your lengthy queries and demands.

I appreciate that approach isn’t for everyone however (for one thing you might not have the time and resources of a self employed rapper)- but something you can definitely do is mention SolFed. Be polite and respectful, but draw attention to Solfed’s other campaigns and suggest that their attention could potentially be troublesome for them as an agency. Showing you are not alone and have friends on your side, is often enough to make a bully back off. (if you are reading this outside of Brighton, there will likely be other organisations who can help including https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/housing/)

Maybe I was a bit wrong at the beginning of this article, because sometimes kindness has to be loud and brash to get things done. Particularly when it is a lone voice protecting those who have been left to fend for themselves against the wolves.  So three cheers for Solfed, and for every organisation out there helping those who need it the most.

And to everyone else, keep being kind, keep doing good things- you never know who you might be helping.

 

You can get in touch with Solfed and find out more about their work Here:

http://www.brightonsolfed.org.uk/