'No DSS’: top letting agents turn away tenants on benefits

22 August 2018

Leading estate agents have been accused of turning away tenants on housing benefit, after a mystery shopping exercise found widespread discrimination.

Researchers posing as prospective tenants called 149 regional letting agent branches across England. They found that one in 10 branches had a policy of not letting properties to those on housing benefit – even if they could afford it.

Analysis by Shelter and the National Housing Federation (NHF) of the investigation named the worst offender out of six leading agents as Haart, which had a ban on housing benefit tenants in eight out of 25 branches.

The only letting agent researchers called that didn’t have any ban in place was Hunters.

However, the Equality Act 2010 states that letting agents who reject housing benefit tenants outright could be at risk of breaking the law if it is interpreted as indirect discrimination against women or disabled people.

The investigation also found a shortage of landlords who were willing to let properties to those on housing benefits, with almost half (48%) of branches saying they did not have suitable homes.

This echoes the findings of a separate Shelter/YouGov survey last August, which found that 61% of private landlords ban or prefer not to rent to tenants who receive housing benefit.

End the housing benefit ban

There are currently around 1.64 million adults who rely on housing benefit to contribute towards their private rental accommodation, and Shelter says most are women – especially single mothers with childcare responsibilities. Others receive disability benefits and are three times more likely to require help with rent.

Shelter and the NHF say they are “appalled” by the findings and have joined forces to urge letting agents and landlords to remove these bans.

Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, says: “This ugly undercurrent of discrimination is wreaking havoc on hundreds of thousands of people’s lives. ‘No DSS’ is an outdated and outrageous example of blatant prejudice.

“That’s why we’re urging all landlords and letting agents to get rid of housing benefit bans, and treat people fairly on a case-by-case basis.”  

David Orr, chief executive of the NHF, which represents social landlords, says the chronic shortage of social housing poses a significant challenge for those on benefits.

“Landlords and letting agents must see sense and assess people on a case-by-case basis, while government urgently needs to invest in the building of new social homes.”

Problem could be “systemic”

However, David Cox, chief executive of estate agent membership body ARLA Propertymark, argues that it is a “systemic problem” that stems from how the government pays housing benefit.

He says: “Rents are paid in advance, whereas housing benefit is paid in arrears, and therefore with such a shortage of rental accommodation, landlords and agents will naturally choose a tenant who can pay the rent when it is due, rather than a tenant who is always a month in arrears.”

He adds that some landlords are restricted as to whom they can let their properties to.

“Many lenders have a clause in their buy-to-let mortgage agreements which prevent landlords from letting to housing benefit tenants. This situation does not exist because of landlords or letting agents, it is a systemic problem caused by government and the banks.”

Responding to the allegations, a spokesperson for Haart says: “It is not our policy to refuse housing benefit tenants – anyone who passes referencing checks is able to rent properties listed with our branches. We do regularly arrange tenancies for those claiming housing benefits and currently have 112 tenancies where this is the case.

“In certain instances, landlords may not be able to let properties to housing benefit tenants for a variety of reasons including lending and insurance criteria. Government policy on housing benefit, with payments made in arrears, has also made it more difficult for landlords who require rents to be paid in advance.”

Where landlords are not able to let to housing benefit tenants, the spokesperson says they will direct them towards other properties that are available.

“This research has brought to light that some of our branches are misinformed and we are working to ensure that this policy is being followed across our network. We are sorry for any occasion where this has not been the case.”

Mystery shopping research results:

Agent namesTotal number of callsAccept people on housing benefit but no properties  available - reasons unclear Accept people on housing benefit but no properties available because landlords unable to let to housing benefit tenantsDo not accept housing benefit tenantsNo properties available
Fox & Sons245128
Your Move2538112
Total (%)14917%20%10%48%
Source: Analysis by Shelter, Mystery shopping fieldwork carried out by independent MRS accredited research agency Mystery Shoppers Ltd. Responses are only categorised in the table above if they definitively meet the criteria, any with any element of doubt are not included.



In reply to by andrew townshend (not verified)

Wow you are horrendous. My housing benefit is paid direct to my landlord, I've been in my property 8 years with checks done via the estate agent every 3 months per their policy to visit the property, which is immaculate :) Shame people with views like yours haven't gone extinct yet!

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

housing benefit is paid 4 weekly in arrears, it is normally less than the full rent, it is paid direct to the tenant, who then quite often fails to pass it onto the landlord, why would a landlord even consider renting to anyone claiming housing benefit ? the government wants us to rent to benefit claimants then they need to pay the full rent in advance direct to the landlord with rent guarantees , this is not going to happen is it ? so we will continue to say no dss thank you

In reply to by Charlene Merrall (not verified)

Then you are very lucky - and it is only because you have been on the same tenancy that the new regulations [not paying the landlord direct] and the new way in which help with rent is calculated. It isnt at all about being "immaculate" but the sad and cyncial way in which local authorities and central government continue to ghettoise low and non earning households - selling off what used to council housing etc. Dont worry private landlords are going extinct - it wont solve the housing crisis tho :)

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I have, in the past written to both the Housing Minister and Southampton Housing Dept.,As someone who has been Homeless, I have been through the System, three times now, finally finding my own flat with a Housing Assc., then a private flat with a very good Landlord. The answer is almost so simple, give the Housing Benefit payments direct to the Landlord, then most of them would be quite happy to have People on Benefits. What has been the problem in the past ? well here in Southampton, I have heard of people having to wait 11/12 weeks for their first payments, at £500 plus per Month, this can be a very nice Cheque for at least £1375.00, which is a great temptation for those who have been without a decent income, sometimes for Months or even Years, so they cash their Cheques and clear off, leaving the Landlord with nothing to show for Three Months Rental. So now you can see why most Landlords do not want People on Housing Benefits.So you see it is a fairly simple solution, which both the Local and National Gov., have so far ignored and have not even acknowledged to me !! Perhaps you would have more luck than a mere Mortal such as I ? Regards, Peter J Newbey.

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Even on a case by case basis, the amount that the Local Housing Allowance is set at always fall short of the actual local rental price so that nobody who is reliant on housing benefit will ever pass a credit check.By definition the property is unaffordable. Not saying this is how it should be at all, but if a landlord chooses to avoid this sector and concentrate on those individuals and families who don't start their tenancy in arrears and who have an overall higher income why is that any different to the purchase of any other product? the whole reason "council housing" was created was to offer long term affordable protected homes outside of the private sector. Now most of those dwellings have been bought and sold and bought again and there is no "council housing" left. The "discrimination" began when Thatcher silently robbed generations of people and this slow train coming has finally reached the buffers.

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