A joint campaign has been launched by Shelter and the National Housing Federation to end any form of discrimination by private sector landlords against people who are reliant on welfare benefits to pay their rent.
Shelter claim the problem of benefit claimants being refused private tenancies is growing. They quote from a YouGov survey of almost 4,000 private renters which found that almost a third of people receiving housing benefits said they had not been able to rent a home due to a ‘No DSS’ policy in the last five years. The charity has been undertaking mystery shopping – by telephoning letting agents to find out if they would accept benefit claimants as tenants. In 20 out of 21 calls made to one agency they were told they would not, even though the firm subsequently told them this was not their policy. Shelter claims this was not an isolated case and they are urging people to join their campaign. The problem has been exacerbated by low wages which have stagnated since the financial crash in 2008 and has seen increasing numbers of those in work, also claiming benefits. It is now estimated that 40 per cent of Universal Claimants are in paid work. Television programmes like Benefit Street tend to stigmatise claimants and harden attitudes against them. Back in July Shelter published analysis of official Government figures which showed that in 2017 some 55 per cent of the families living in temporary accommodation were working – this represented over 33,000 families who were holding down a job despite having nowhere stable to live. Many private landlords complain that accusations of discrimination are unfair because it is the policies of mortgage lenders and insurance companies which are forcing them to be restrictive about who they let their properties to. There are also problems caused by benefits being paid in arrears to claimants, so they often accumulate debts with rent and other bills, which are difficult to pay off.
In addition recent tax changes (stamp duty increases and withdrawal of tax relief on mortgage payments) are forcing many smaller landlords to sell up or look at ways of cutting costs, while unpaid rent poses a serious problem for them. The Residential Landlords Association have slammed Shelter and the NHF ‘for pointing fingers at letting agents and private landlords’ while failing to offer any solutions. John Stewart, Policy Manager at the RLA said there are many reasons for landlords being reluctant to let to those on benefits. “Private landlords see tenants who are claiming benefits as a higher risk. The key to widening access to the private rented sector for these tenants is to reduce that risk. This is something that is understood by the homelessness charity Crisis” said Mr Stewart. “Their rent guarantee and bond schemes help many people into private rented accommodation by taking on some of that risk” he added. Explaining the need for the campaign, Greg Beales, the Director of Campaigns at Shelter, said: “Go onto any housing website now and you will see it. ‘No DSS’. The Department for Social Security (DSS) was renamed years ago, but the meaning of ‘No DSS’ is still known to all. It means we will not rent this property to you if you are ‘on benefits’. “In 2018 Britain we have landlords telling people don’t apply if you are on benefits. Don’t apply, I won’t even consider you. It doesn’t matter if you have always paid your rent on time. It doesn’t matter if your references are great and you and your family really need a home. ‘No DSS’. It’s prejudice and it’s discrimination.” Shelter believes such actions are indirect discrimination and illegal. They plan to bring a series of test cases to the Courts in the coming months to challenge those who refuse to consider letting to people on benefits and to ask the courts whether their practices are lawful or are in fact indirect discrimination.
By Patrick Mooney, editor