'Pay your rent!' London district's 'insulting' Christmas message

The Christmas message sent to tenants by Hammersmith & Fulham Council in London. Hammersmith & Fulham Council

LONDON -- A council was criticized Thursday for mailing out an "insulting" Christmas message warning its public housing tenants not to “overindulge" during the holiday season in case they fall behind on their rent payments.

The card shows a coin fizzing in a glass next to a sprig of holly - representing a festive hangover treatment - with the warning: "Pay your rent!"

Hammersmith and Fulham Council, in west London, said 46 percent of its tenants were in rent arrears and the cards were part of a "hard-hitting" campaign to tackle the problem.

It cited research that showed one in 12 renters was prepared to forgo payments over Christmas and they didn’t want that list to get bigger.

However several recipients were unhappy, including resident Mary Buckley who called it a “threatening piece of literature masquerading as a Christmas greeting."

“It’s insulting,” Buckley told the Fulham News newspaper, adding that she had lived in a council-owned property with her 82-year-old mother Tina for 25 years and had never been behind with payments.

“I was absolutely flabbergasted,” she added. “It’s a crass and insulting message and when I went to complain, the lady on the phone laughed at me.”

The council’s cabinet member for housing, Andrew Johnson, defended the cards.

"The postcard was not intended to be insulting,” he said. "But to deter tenants from getting into debt over a period which can bring financial headaches. Research shows that this is the one time of year that many families will consider forgoing their rent. This brings stress and worry as it can often be very difficult to catch-up.

 “We want to prevent this from happening while offering support to people who are experiencing financial hardship,” he added.