TV review: How to Get a Council House, Channel 4

The Dealership, Channel 4

When I saw Channel 4's Thursday-night line-up, I assumed that its programmers were being provocative. The first part of a fly-on-the-wall series about used-car salesmen would be followed by the first of three documentaries on council housing, entitled How to Get a Council House. Wouldn't both shows simply give two demonised groups – the first a sort of cultural shorthand for dodginess and dishonesty, the second, those in need of social housing, being the poster children for Broken Britain and benefits culture – a good kicking? I was wrong.

Rather than being a guide to slipping through the loopholes of council accommodation, as its name suggests, for the sort of people whom certain newspapers (and certain politicians) would dub feckless, it instead showed people playing a hopeless numbers game that almost everyone was losing. The subject was the council and residents of east London's Tower Hamlets, one of the capital's poorest and most crowded boroughs.

Each week, there are 24,000 people hoping to get one of just 40 properties available. People such as Grant and Kimberly, who currently live in a room with no lockable door and no sheets on the beds because they have to wash them every day due to the building being infested with bed bugs. Kimberly is pregnant, and they've been on the waiting list for seven months, but there are 2,000 people in the same band as them who've "queued" (waited) much longer than they have to be housed.

You heard more about bands in How to Get a Council House than you would watching a rerun of Glastonbury. That was because they're one of the hopelessly imperfect ways councils use to decide who needs a property most urgently. It was amazing to hear Grant speak so calmly in the face of his dire odds of getting a place. It was also startling to learn of the council's policy to invite up to six families, each of whom will have had to bid along with hundreds – if not thousands – of other people to get a chance to see a property, to each viewing.

Tom, whose flat where he lives with his two young granddaughters is being demolished, apologised to the couple with an autistic son when he took the flat that they've all been invited to view. That everyone shown was so polite at these horrifically awkward meetings was a credit to everyone involved. On the other side of the paperwork wall, council staff, amid the mutters and wails of the housing queue or sitting in fluoro-lit council offices, endlessly explained the rules and policies that caused their "clients" to ask incredulously if they're joking. They weren't. There aren't a lot of laughs anywhere in the housing system, but neither is there any fecklessness in evidence.

With waiting lists of six years for a three-bedroom home and computer systems that baffle the people who have to depend on them, how you get a council house is a mixture of desperation and patience.

The clichés came thick and fast in The Dealership, which follows the salesmen of Essex Car Company. Used-car dealers? In Essex? With a geezer-ish voiceover and a manager who describes his staff in terms of motors ("At this stage in his career he's a Fiesta, a Clio. He needs to aspire to be a Mondeo… James is a Lamborghini")? It sounds like parody but is actually quite sweet, if a bit dull. The sales guys work their socks off – with plenty of wide-boy charm – there doesn't seem to be any sharp practices and everyone was nice to the work-experience kid who looked like Adrian Mole, making him over with some hair product and a few squirts of aftershave. Unfortunately, this didn't make for much drama, and with no villains to boo and hiss (The Call Centre, it ain't), I think I'd rather spend a day doing my own job than watching these chaps do theirs.

Twitter.com/rebeccaj

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury

music

Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas

film

Arts and Entertainment

music

Arts and Entertainment
A shot from the forthcoming Fast and Furious 7

film

Arts and Entertainment
The new-look Top of the Pops could see Fearne Cotton returns as a host alongside Dermot O'Leary

TV

Arts and Entertainment
The leader of the Church of Scientology David Miscavige

TV

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

    Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
    Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

    Aviation history is littered with grand failures

    But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

    Fortress Europe?

    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
    Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

    Never mind what you're wearing

    It's what you're reclining on that matters
    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence