Several years ago my daughter, who was then pregnant, was given a council flat. In the last year, however, she and her son have moved in with her boyfriend and she's letting the flat out privately to some friends. Both my daughter and her boyfriend are earning good money, and I feel what she is doing is immoral – but I don't want to go behind my daughter's back and tell the council. I thought I brought my daughter up to be honest but clearly I've failed. Do you have any idea of what I should do?
It's awfully difficult for you to stand by and do nothing, isn't it? I wonder why on earth she told you what she was up to? Do you think she knows, at some level, that what she's doing is wrong, and hopes, by telling you and putting you in this extremely difficult position where you're reluctant to snitch on her, that your silence will equate to a kind of acceptance?
I don't think you should go behind her back and tell the council. But I do think you ought to tell your daughter that you find her behaviour absolutely reprehensible. Presumably there is some wretched single parent somewhere, stuck in bed-and-breakfast accommodation, who could really do with a flat of her own. Or perhaps there's a homeless person who's sleeping rough – directly as a result of her money-making scam. Ask how she'd feel if she and her son were homeless and couldn't get anywhere to live? Lay the emotional blackmail on thick.
If she doesn't react, then I'd say that unfortunately, since she's told you, you can't let the matter rest. You're not going to tell on her right now or even behind her back but, you can say, if she doesn't get the tenant out within the next three months and give the flat back to the council, then you'll have no compunction in doing the right thing.
You could make life even more tricky for her by saying that if she's broke, you'll provide the equivalent money to the rent every week. But I bet she wouldn't accept that. It's one thing to take charity from her old dad, another to con a faceless council.
I've no doubt she'll scoff and say you're being a pious old fart or that "everybody does it", but you can say that she is not "everybody" and nor are you. And despite her mocking response, I feel sure she'll take your censure to heart. I bet there's a nagging inner knowledge she has that realises what she's doing is horrible exploitative.
I remember, when I was about 16, asking my father if he had an empty gin bottle I could take to a party. He asked why I wanted one and I said it was to fill with water so I could pretend it was a full bottle. He was furious. He said if that was what I was going to do with it he wouldn't dream of letting me have an empty bottle. Naturally, I didn't take one, and to this day I can still remember the stinging shame I felt as a result of his disapproval. It's a pretty horrible feeling, even now.
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This is fraud
There's no need to go behind your daughter's back. Tell her that her and her partner's behaviour is fraudulent and that there has been some public discussion about making it a criminal offence. Even if it is simply fraudulent, the consequences of such behaviour may be very serious. For example, if convicted of fraud they will both have to declare it on any applications they make for new jobs. Current and/or future employers will not look favourably on this and in some cases it may be a sacking offence. In addition, since council housing is so hard to come by, it is in my view immoral that the housing isn't being rented by people who actually require it. Set a time limit for her (say one calender month) and then report them.
Elisabeth, by email
Give her a deadline
Explain to your daughter that you're disappointed with her for denying suitable accommodation to some other family in housing need and give her a month or so to give notice to the sub-tenants and tell the council she has moved out. You should add that if she does not do this, you'll tell the local authority yourself, as this is the only moral way to proceed.
Jack McKenna, by email
Next week's dilemma
I have two adult daughters and after my estranged husband died three years ago, the elder one has simply stopped talking to me. She says I was always a lousy mother, and she never wants to speak to me again. I've tried sending presents, cards, letters, apologies, but nothing works. Her teenage children still speak to me, thank goodness, but I'm at my wits end. I'm thinking of making a will that means she doesn't get anything, but might she be able to contest it? I'm so upset and angry.
What would you advise Fenella to do?