As a photographer, I have frequently had to temp to top up my income. Working in customer service for social housing providers was the worst job I had.
In the wake of the horrifying, avoidable death of Awaab Ishak, this is a record of my experiences.
In training I was told how to “overcome objections” from tenants that have mould and told to send leaflets and not raise inspections, no matter how severe the infestation. I grew up in a council house full of mould. I’m in my 30’s and my mum’s house is only now being treated.
Classist and racist microaggressions were common; the attitude of management was that tenants should be grateful for what they’re given and their complaints were automatically disregarded as unjustified or entitled. If I tried to raise a job regardless, it was cancelled.
It was impossible to bypass the judgement of the external contractors (to which jobs were allocated) and often the inspections I raised with internal surveyors were not attended: even management in both social housing jobs casually accepted that the surveyors were cowboys.
The consequence was that mould infestations, severe draughts from blown double glazing (kids sleeping in freezing rooms) were a struggle to even get inspected and that’s just the first step. They were considered to be non-urgent repairs which could take years to fix.
The contractors used were terrible and incompetent – the goal was to scrimp; they’d leave houses with jobs unfinished, if they turned up. They’d often card a house without knocking to avoid work which tenants had waited a long time for and taken time off work to be at home for.
The vast majority of calls from tenants were about shoddy repairs and mould which were barely patched up only to cause issues months later; tenants were even often blamed for mould. When I raised this, the attitude was that tenants were moaning scroungers or imagining issues.
Working tenants were treated mildly better than non-working, but there was a difference in attitude from management. Those that spoke with an accent or required interpretation were treated the worst and the attitude was that they should just put up, shut up and be grateful.
The worst call was from a disabled woman forced to sleep in her lounge for a year as her adaptations hadn’t been completed. The notes went back for years – complete failure, frequent dismissal. I spent ages trying to help only to be told off for not meeting my call target.
Awaab Ishak’s case is horrifying but not surprising; the attitude towards non-native tenants was shameful and dehumanising. I’d have sleepless nights thinking about tenants in awful conditions, asking for help and being repeatedly dismissed or passed from pillar to post.
This attitude is endemic in social housing, I worked for three providers, all claimed to have the tenant at the heart of their enterprise, all purely focused on cutting corners and costs and all had an undercurrent of classism, xenophobia, racism and contempt for tenants.
My job was to fob people off and dismiss – even a disabled woman forced to live without dignity, even families living in dangerous conditions – there was no urgency or empathy, I refused to fob people off so my contract wasn’t extended; colleagues that did became permanent.
I can’t see anything changing. To housing associations, poor people don’t matter. Sadly, they’re mirroring societal viewpoints; that’s how they get away with it and that’s how a two year old boy died in these awful circumstances. Poor people have no agency or right to complain.
To clarify I wasn’t actually able to do the job I’d been hired to do, I tried to help people but the confines of the KPIs/call targets meant it was impossible to help those with complex needs. If I tried I was told off. It was like the job was designed to avoid helping tenants.