A court ruling in July banned landlords in the private sector from discriminating against tenants on benefits. The case was brought by housing charity Shelter, after a single mother with two children was made homeless. No private landlord would let a property to her. The judge ruled that a blanket ban on so-called ‘DDS tenants’ was unlawful, but a recent BBC report found nothing much has changed.
Benefits Tenants Not Welcome
BBC researchers scanned listings on OpenRent. They discovered three-quarters of listings stated tenants on benefits were not accepted. This is backed up by the experience of many benefits claimants searching for private rental housing.
One couple with a small child, both of whom can’t work because of health problems, said the court ruling had led landlords to be less obvious in their discrimination. While many ads no longer state ‘No DSS’, tenants on benefits are told upon application that the landlord is looking for a ‘working couple’. In other words, someone not claiming benefits.
Another man with mental health issues had a similar experience. Whilst the ads he has seen don’t specifically state ‘NO DSS’, as soon as he applies, he’s told suitable tenants must be in full-time employment, even though he can easily afford to rent the properties.
Often, tenants don’t find out they have been rejected until they have taken the trouble to apply for a property, which is a waste of everyone’s time.
Polly Neate from Shelter says landlords and letting agents must stop discriminating against tenants.
“We won’t stop fighting DSS discrimination until it’s banished for good,” she says, adding that sites like OpenRent have a duty to remind landlords it’s illegal to discriminate against tenants on benefits, the majority of whom are women and disabled people.
OpenRent Supports Court Ruling
Property listing website OpenRent says it is committed to supporting the recent court ruling. The site’s users believe applicants should be made aware of any landlord conditions prior to application. Landlords using the site still have the option to tick a box saying they accept tenants with income from benefits.
“Hiding conditions of renting over which the landlord has no discretion only wastes time for all involved, and indeed makes the situation far worse for the very people Shelter is trying to help.”
NRLA Warns of Underlying Problems
The National Residential Landlords Association (NRLA) says the problem is caused by the affordability of renting in the private sector. It says landlords are often banned from accepting tenants on benefits because of clauses in their buy to let mortgage terms & conditions. Landlord insurers also see DSS tenants as a higher risk, which can push premiums up.
The way benefit cash is paid can also cause issues, with delays in Universal Credit payments following an initial claim. There is also a shortfall between Local Authority Housing Allowance Rates and actual rents in the private sector, not to mention changes in how much benefits claimants are paid.
The NRLA is concerned that discrimination against benefits tenants is likely to get even worse when unemployment rates rise when the furlough scheme ends.
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