A recent study by housing charity Shelter and the National Housing Federation claims that 60 per cent of landlords are discriminating against those claiming welfare – HB tenants
According to evidence collected by the joint study, it is common for landlords to advertise for new tenants with the qualification that warn: “no DSS” or “no housing benefit”.
The NHF, using what would appear to be quite provocative language to describe the practise, compares these ads to the “No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs ”, highly offensive terminology used by a tiny minority of landlords decades ago.
The NHF says it believes these “No DSS”, commonly displayed ads, could be illegal under equality laws, this, despite the conclusions of a recent House of Commons briefing paper which finds the practice not to be illegal.
The briefing paper considered evidence of private landlords’ reluctance to let to prospective tenants in receipt of Housing Benefit/Universal Credit. The paper looked at the reasons behind this reluctance and why refusing to let to benefit claimants is unlikely to amount to direct discrimination.
Discriminating against Housing Benefit claimants?
“It is not unusual for private landlords to advertise properties to let stating that they will not accept applications from HB claimants. This often raises the question of whether such restrictions amount to unlawful discrimination. It is unlikely to amount to direct discrimination as income and employment status are not protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010,”, says the House of Commons briefing.
But could it result in indirect discrimination?
One theory being expounded is that women, single mothers particular, and the disabled are disproportionately dependent on welfare and therefore maybe victims of indirect discrimination violating the 2010 Equality Act, because of this practise.
Figures revealed show that women make up 59.1% of adults in households claiming housing benefit in England’s private rented sector, whereas women account for 50.6% of the population, and 12.7% of claimants in the private rented sector claim disability-related benefits, compared to only 5.2% of the overall population.
A recent case, the Rosie Keogh case claimed that an agent’s refusal to let to Ms Keogh’s case was that a blanket discrimination against ‘DSS’ applicants and was therefore indirect discrimination against women, particularly single women.
After receiving help from Shelter, Ms Keogh was able to settle her claim with the agent out of court for several thousand pounds. So, as the case was settled out of court no precedent was set and so no ruling as yet which can be relied on in future.
Perhaps a very relevant question here is, why do landlords refuse to let to Housing Benefit claimants?
Historically, landlords were reluctant to let to HB claimants, the paper concludes, because of delays in processing HB applications, but since April 2008 a key factor influencing landlords has been the introduction of the Local Housing Allowance and the requirement that this, except in certain specified circumstances, is paid to claimants rather than landlords.
Restrictions on the level of LHA paid to claimants were introduced by the Coalition Government in April 2011, changes which led various housing bodies, including representative bodies of private landlords, to argue that HB claimants were being priced out of the market.
Further restrictions have since been introduced, for example, LHA rates having been frozen since April 2016 and will remain so until April 2020. This has added to landlords’ concerns about the gap between LHA and market rent levels.
Other factors cited as reasons for landlords’ reluctance to let to HB claimants include:
- Fears about the tenant’s ability to pay rent.
- Fears that the tenant will prove to be a ‘bad tenant’
- A desire to avoid dealing with the local authority
- A prohibition on benefit tenants imposed by their insurer or mortgage company
- Concerns about delays in the court eviction process should it be necessary to evict
- Uncertainly around the roll-out and implications of Universal Credit;
- The payment of Housing Benefit in arrears;
- Restrictions in mortgage agreements and insurance requirements; and
- Tax changes resulting in landlords focusing on “less risky” tenants.
The Shelter and the National Housing Federation study found that in North Cumbria, 59% of adverts they analysed said “No DSS”, compared with 35% in Gloucester and 29% in Weston-super-Mare.
Nationally, around 10 per cent of ads. for rental properties “are likely to be advertised unlawfully by explicitly discriminating against people who rely on housing benefit”, say Shelter and the National Housing Federation.
A shortage of social housing following the decline of council housing and higher house prices have led to growing numbers of people being forced to rent privately. Many depend on housing benefit, even when in work, with more than 1.4 million claimants across England.