Landlords discriminate against tenants on benefits


London landlords are still discriminating against tenants on benefits, despite a court ruling last month that said blanket bans were illegal, BBC analysis has revealed.

On one letting site, just 14 per cent of over 1,700 properties in the capital took benefits claimants.

And almost two thirds of London boroughs had more listings that would accept pets than renters on benefits.

More than one in five (21 per cent) of properties on the OpenRent website welcomed tenants with pets, and almost twice as many (39 per cent) accepted smokers.

Benefits claimants are often referred to by the acronym DSS: this stands for Department for Social Security, the forerunner of the Department for Work and Pensions, which oversees Universal Credit.

In July, a judge at York County Court ruled that blanket ‘No DSS’ rental bans by lettings agents are unlawful and discrimnatory.

Because the judgement was from a low level court it is not a binding rule for other cases, but campaigners say it sends a clear signal.

Most major rental sites no longer allow landlords to state a preference on benefits status – but on OpenRent, properties are listed with the tag ‘DSS income accepted’.

The BBC Shared Data Unit took a snapshot of properties on the site earlier this month – revealing one London borough, Kingston Upon Thames, with no properties for tenants on housing support.

Greenwich (three per cent), Croydon (three per cent), Redbridge (six per cent) and Enfield (six per cent) were also among the worst for renters on Universal Credit.

Southwark was the most benefits-friendly borough on OpenRent – but still only around a third (34 per cent) of landlords accepted claimants as tenants.

Less than three quarters (74 per cent) of listed properties described themselves as “student friendly” – with just over a third (37 per cent) in Sutton available to students.

Enfield (58 per cent), Bromley (59 per cent), Hounslow (59 per cent) and Bexley (60 per cent) were also among the worst for student renters.

And less than two thirds (61 per cent) of London properties on OpenRent accepted families – with just a third (35 per cent) available in Richmond Upon Thames.

The City of London (38 per cent), Kingston Upon Thames (39 per cent), Merton (42 per cent) and Hillingdon (48 per cent) were also among the least family friendly boroughs on the site.

Polly Neate, chief executive of housing charity Shelter, said discrimination against benefits claimants is “outdated” and “grossly unfair”.

Shelter said hundreds of would-be tenants have contacted the charity with discrimination concerns since the York County Court ruling in July.

news london

NOW READ: City neighbour has fourth highest infection rate in England

Their studies suggests letting agents often advise landlords to list properties as ‘No DSS’.

Researchers at Toynbee Hall, an East London anti-poverty charity, share the same concerns.

Sian Williams, policy and innovation director for the charity, said rejecting benefits claimants is often “almost a default position”.

“Our experience of letting agents is that they don’t pay much attention to detail and they’ll often take the easy option,” she said.

Laura Blair, a peer researcher for the charity, warned that the problem is likely to become increasingly acute as more people are forced to claim benefits because of Covid-19 job losses.

As well as ‘No DSS’ bans some landlords use the “more insidious version” ‘Professionals only’, which excludes many renters, she said.

Ms Williams said she is “not very confident at all” that last month’s judgement will be a watershed moment for renters on benefits.

While the solution may not be a new law, letting agents and landlords must “know there’ll be a consequence” if they discriminate.

“Responsible and respectable letting agencies will make the change – but renters need it now,” she added.

National Residential Landlords’ Association deputy policy director John Stewart said his organisation has “always advised landlords they should not blanket ban benefit claimants”

Mr Stewart said the affordability of homes is the “fundamental issue” for vulnerable tenants.

OpenRent founder Adam Hyslop said housing access is “a real and painful problem” for many renters on benefits.

But many landlords have clauses in their mortgages that prevent them from renting to benefits claimants, he said.

“Hiding conditions of renting over which the landlord has no discretion only wastes time for all involved,” Mr Hyslop added.

“To characterise us as somehow hostile to benefit claimants – or worse, lumping us in with agents who have a blanket ban on benefit claimants – is simply unfair and inaccurate.”

Three London boroughs – Hackney, Havering and Kensington and Chelsea – were excluded from the study because there were fewer than five listings these areas on Open Rent.

For the latest headlines from the City of London and beyond, follow City Matters on TwitterInstagram and LinkedIn.