Last month, Minister for Housing, Heather Wheeler, made it clear that she intended to tackle the issue of “banning DSS tenants”. Despite this, it is still common for ads to contain the words “No DSS”. Indeed, the UK’s biggest landlord, Fergus Wilson, is infamous for banning DSS tenants from his properties, along with many other groups such as “plumbers and single mothers”.
MPs are now discussing this controversial practice of including a “No DSS” clause in adverts, which is routinely implemented by many letting agents and landlords. In a hearing on Wednesday, the select committee from the Department of Work and Pensions asked one leading letting agent to explain one of their adverts, which read: “No DSS. Small dogs considered”.
A Dark Echo from Bygone Times
Critics say this demeaning practice harks back to times when adverts for rental accommodation routinely specified “No blacks, no Irish, and no dogs”. Derek Thomas, Member of Parliament for St Ives, says discriminating against people claiming benefits is creating a hostile environment. The letting agent’s director replied saying:
“Those adverts are not acceptable. I will need to go back and make sure those ads are not there.”
It isn’t an Isolated Incident
Yet MPs were told that the agent had run similar adverts in many areas. And it wasn’t an isolated incident. Another large letting agent had a similar policy in place, with 19 of its current adverts identified as saying “No DSS” in the ad’s text. Even when an advert doesn’t explicitly state “No DSS”, letting agents and landlords still discriminate against people claiming benefits.
Shelter Conducts Mystery Shopper Research
Housing charity Shelter conducted mystery shopper experiments. They had volunteers posing as landlords call letting agents. Many were warned not to accept tenants on benefits, as they were likely to trash their property and cause trouble. This is something that tenants see all the time. Many find it very difficult to secure a tenancy agreement when they claim benefits.
One tenant told the Guardian: “I have never missed a payment, I keep the house very clean, but to find a landlord that would rent to me is extremely hard. We phoned every letting agent in the borough. We went to every Gumtree site. By the end of this, my mental health had deteriorated so badly … It caused that much stress.”
Another said her daughter had really struggled to find a landlord willing to let to her and her three kids because she was claiming benefits as a full-time carer for her sick grandmother.
Lenders and Insurance Companies Ban DSS Tenants
Many landlords say they can’t let to tenants on benefits because their mortgage lender and/or insurance company explicitly forbids this in their T&Cs. However, several of the leading lenders, including Nationwide and NatWest say they won’t enforce such clauses. In addition, Zoopla says it won’t carry adverts with “No DSS” in the listing.
No DSS Challenged in the Courts
Housing charity, Shelter, is currently working on around 20 separate legal cases against landlords and letting agents, which are slowly progressing through the courts. It says including “No DSS in listings amounts to indirect discrimination”
“It is clearly dysfunctional and not working for huge swathes of those people on benefits,” said Heidi Allen, a member of the common’s select committee. Frank Field, the committee’s chairman, is recommending legislation to stamp out the practice. We’ll keep you posted about whether this comes to pass.