Welcome to the Russian city of Irkutsk where a public utility company has come up with a unique way of reminding people that they need to pay their bills if they wish to continue using the indoor toilets. Back in November 2018, the Irkutsk Northern Housing and Utility Systems Directorate installed a wooden cabin toilet outside the apartment building. The sign on this toilet cabin read ‘Toilet for Debtors’ and was placed on the front door.
This approach using ‘toilet for debtors’ was the company’s ingenious way of reminding the residents that the company will cut off their utilities unless they paid what is owed. The tactic has proven to be so successful that the company has been moving the toilet cabin to the problem area of the city during the last few months. Alexei Mikhailov, director of the Northern Housing and Utility Systems Directorate told the Russian news station 5TV, ‘This artistic object is like a weapon of mass destruction, that is, it immediately hits the debtor’s mindset and makes them think.’
A company representative also said, ‘The toilet is set as a reminder that utility services are not free, and that they can be cut off at any time.’ By law, the public utility companies are allowed to plug the sewers of the apartment buildings where the debt goes above a certain amount. However, in Irkutsk, the directorate opted for a psychological pressure by using ‘toilet for debtors’ rather than imposing such drastic measures. As of now, the company is focused on buildings where the residents have amassed debts in excess of 3 million rubles ($45,000). Such buildings are over a dozen in number.
The Toilet for Debtors was inspired by a similar tactic used by a public utility company in the Russian region of Sahara. This particular company used ‘Pyramid of Shame’ for achieving the same result. The Pyramid of Stone was a three-ton stone pyramid that had slogans like ‘A Debtor Lives Here’ and ‘You Must Pay Your Water Bill.’ The idea behind this was to shame the debtors into clearing their debts. The pyramid would be placed outside the debtors; homes and would remain there unless they paid up.
China has a similar approach known by the name of ‘Reel Shame.’ This is where short clips are shown before a movie featuring the faces and names of debtors at the cinema. What do you think of these techniques including the toilet for debtors? Do let us know!