Please Note: This Article is 3 years old. This increases the likelihood that some or all of it's content is now outdated.

There’s recently been a spate of press reports and political wrangling about the existence of Zero-Hour Contracts.

This has become something of a hot political issue as we approach a general election, and one surprising development is recent attempts to embroil landlords in the issue, as if they have not got enough political issues they are being accused of.

There are some employers that have come to the practise of offering employment on the basis that daily and weekly hours are not guaranteed, but hours and work are offered and paid for on an ad-hoc basis, as and when the employer needs them.

Obviously this is good for employers when they can match their staffing requirements to demand, but not so good for employees who have no guarantee of a regular income.

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This has always been the case for the self-employed as there’s no guarantee for their income either.

But, it seems, the iniquity of some of these so-called Zero Hours Contracts, is that they restrict employment to the one employer, further restricting the flexibility of the employee and preventing them from supplementing what is probably a meagre and unreliable income.

Self-employment has always been an issue for landlords when assessment affordability, precisely because the income is unpredictable. Most times referencing and credit checking of the self-employed involves a reference from their accountant. The difficulty comes when the self-employment commenced very recently, in which case it is nearly always necessary to involve a guarantor.

The guarantor solution of course is also open to anyone on a flexible employment contract.

The coalition government has vowed to clamp down on the zero-hour practice, but in some circles the issue is being raised as a political point in relation to landlords, some of the press and politicians claiming that it is illegal for landlords to discriminate against workers with irregular incomes, when it comes to awarding them a tenancy.

Of course it is not, and never has been the case that landlords cannot discriminate when selecting their tenants. But legal discrimination is restricted to financial grounds – affordability.

The issue of affordability for tenants is another one which has been brought to the fore recently by a report – Savills Residential Property Focus Q4 2014 – which says that “private renting among younger households is set to increase as housing’s generational divide gets wider.”

However, legally discriminating on affordability grounds does not mean that landlords can discriminate on any of the usual discrimination grounds: sex and sexual orientation, religion, race and disability.

In fact, discrimination is set to become a much bigger issue for landlords as the Right to Rent immigration checks come on stream. Following a pilot scheme which will affect landlords from the 1st of December 2014 in the Midlands, it will likely apply to all UK landlords from April 2015.

To make sure they comply with the discrimination laws landlords and letting agents will in future need to pay particular attention to their selection procedures: these need to be consistent and transparent.

That means that ALL prospective tenants must go through the same assessment process, answering the same questions, ideally documented and recorded, and that they are judged against the same selection criteria.

Landlords could in future be asked to show how they have carried out their assessment and if there’s no documentation to show how they did it, they could be vulnerable to prosecution if accused of discrimination. Right-to-rent-landlords-code-of-practice

Tessa Shepperson, a legal specialist in rental property law and operator of the Landlord-Law website, was recently asked by a BBC reporter to confirm that discrimination on financial grounds when selecting tenants is illegal.

Of course, when she realised what he was trying to imply, she put him right on the matter: landlords CAN discriminate in affordability grounds, that’s always been the case, and always will be.

Please Note: This Article is 3 years old. This increases the likelihood that some or all of it's content is now outdated.
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