Eviction warnings & the Birmingham Lib Dems

Last Saturday’s Birmingham Evening Mail reports:

All 73,000 council house tenants in Birmingham have received demands for rent arrears and a threat of further action – even though most of them don’t owe a penny.
Letters should have been sent out to just 6,500 tenants but a blunder meant 66,500 more people received the warnings.

Now tenants fearing eviction have bombarded housing offices with calls for reassurance.

The letters claim ‘action will be taken to recover any outstanding rent’ unless accounts are brought up to date this month. The city’s debt advice team has been receiving up to 300 calls per day from anxious tenants – and it is understood that staff in at least one neighbourhood office threatened to walk out after being deluged with abusive calls. The council blunder was brought to light today by former Fox Hollies Labour councillor Matt Redmond who claims just 6,500 tenants are actually in arrears with their rent and that the other 66,500 received the letters in error.

‘This blunder has caused widespread misery across the city and undue pressure on housing office staff,’ he said.

‘I have had calls from elderly people petrified they are going to be dumped out on the streets and calls from tenants that have never been a penny in arrears in their lives.

‘The letters don’t tell people how much they owe but they do stress the council will take action if the arrears are not brought up to date this month.’

The error comes as the city oversees a new system in the way rents are now collected. For more than 50 years rents were always collected in arrears but from January this year a new system of payment in advance was introduced.

One of the reasons given for this spectacular mess-up is that it was a systems problem. And who is the Council Cabinet member with responsibility for ICT and customer service standards? Step forward our old friend from Yardley, Birmingham Lib Dem group leader John Hemming.