Keep on campaigning

It’s always good to get feedback on the work you do. Over the last week or so I’ve been reflecting on some of the less favourable comments made about us, specifically, criticism of some of our current work on probationary tenancies and letting agencies.

My colleague Fiona King posted an excellent post a couple of weeks ago about attacks made on us for the language we’d been using in some of our recent work around probationary tenancies. She ended by saying, rightly, that we were happy to rock the boat if needs be.

We have also released a report calling for the regulation of letting agencies. While this is an objective shared by the responsible side of the industry including ARLA and other industry bodies we were again accused by some of using aggressive language. Unbelievably a few cryptic warnings were even made about how us campaigning on this issue could affect our funding.

We know that the majority of landlords and letting agents do the right thing and play by the rules, and with this in mind maybe we shouldn’t have referred to some in the sector as ‘Cowboys’. However, it strikes me that attacking the language used rather than the idea itself is a pretty poor way to try and discredit a campaign. Much easier to attack someone for using a single word than defend practice in an industry which has habitually broken the law for the best part of thirty years and where some continue to do so despite crystal clear clarification from the Scottish Government. Let’s hope that threats about funding to influence calls for greater scrutiny and fairness can be left in books about Tammany Hall rather than twenty first century Scotland.

Housing is an emotive subject and rightly so. Someone who has been subjected to sharp practice by a cowboy agent or evicted without due process is going to be angry when they find out they’ve been ripped off. It might suit a vocal minority (and it is a small, small minority) in the industry to shift the debate onto purely theoretical terms. But the people who have been affected have a right to be heard and it’s legitimate for us as an organisation to be part of the process of ensuring that this happens.

I spend a disproportionately large amount of my time standing around street corners in the rain with our wonderful volunteer supporters asking members of the public to support our work. We’re currently campaigning for more security of tenure for tenants in the private rented sector, aiming to ensure families who pay their rent and play by the rules aren’t forced out for any reason and that they can stay in their home as long as they want to. In the last week I’ve been soaked to the skin in Paisley town centre and been half-frozen in Dumfries. What was common in both towns though was the fabulous response from members of the public. People signing our petition described to me the experience of having to move regularly at short notice and the effect on their children; their children’s schooling and family life. My colleagues who work on our helpline hear this and much, much worse on a daily basis.

Maybe this experience makes us less careful about the words we choose, and maybe we should be more aware of the sensitivities of well paid professionals in the housing sector who don’t like it when we do our job.  But giving people at the sharp end of poor practice a voice is our top priority, and I’m not sorry we have done that.

Shelter Scotland and the Scottish Association of Landlords have teamed up to host a conference to launch the Scottish Government’s Private Rented Sector Strategy –  Private Renting in Scotland: Unlocking the potential.

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Murdo Mathison

Murdo Mathison

I’m the campaigns and public affairs manager for Shelter Scotland and work in both our Glasgow and Edinburgh offices. I lead our campaigns work and our contact with politicians. I’ve got three kids and a dog I like spending as much time as I can with and sometimes manage to fit in watching Partick Thistle win this season’s first division title too.

  • Mason

    How can you conflate ‘attacking the language used’ with an attempt at discrediting an entire campaign? Someone might well agree with the aims of the campaign, but be deeply concerned at the type of language used (and it seems an awful lot of people are deeply concerned at the language used), but It wasn’t just the use of ‘cowboys’ though was it? It also included the term ‘wild west’ among others.

    Turning to the phrase ‘We should be more aware of the sensitivities of well paid professionals in the housing sector who don’t like it when we do our job”. I presume no-one in Shelter is ‘well paid’? An organisation that raked in around £53m pays those at the top pretty well I’d imagine, but I’m sure that’s not something you’d really like to address.