Oxford has pledged to stamp out DSS discrimination against tenants on housing benefit and Universal Credit – the first council to take such a stand.
A cross-party motion has called on the cabinet to explicitly ban discrimination against welfare recipients by changing the wording of its landlord accreditation scheme to say: ‘You must not discriminate on the basis of age, gender, race, language, sexuality or any other factor that might place an individual at a disadvantage.
This includes indirect discrimination such as ‘no DSS’ or related practices, namely refusing to let prospective tenants on housing benefit or universal credit view affordable properties and requiring guarantors in cases where a prospective tenant’s income is sufficient.’
It wants to ensure that the city’s welfare reform team proactively looks out for, and acts upon, reported cases of discrimination and suggests that a new, formal tenants’ forum should be consulted on housing decisions.
The council’s housing and homelessness panel will monitor action taken to address discrimination against those on benefits while duty housing officers would refer cases to the welfare reform team and independent advice centres.
Green Party councillor Chris Jarvis (pictured) tells LandlordZONE that for too long, some landlords and letting agents have been acting with impunity.
“DSS discrimination is often covert, however, community union Acorn has documented clear examples of letting agents in the city actively engaging in discriminatory practices against welfare recipients including ensuring that potential tenants are screened before landlords let properties and not letting properties to tenants on universal credit or housing benefit.”
Last July, York County Court ruled that landlords and letting agents risk prosecution if they won’t allow housing benefit claimants to rent their properties. However, last October, an investigation by the BBC Data Unit found Wokingham landlords were refusing to rent to benefits claimants; none of the landlords who listed 45 properties on the website OpenRent accepted ‘DSS income’.
Safieh Kabir, chair of Acorn’s Oxford branch, tells LandordZONE: “We’re proud that our members’ collective campaigning efforts have pushed the issue of covert DSS discrimination out from the shadows.
“Oxford has a deserved reputation as a divided city, and property owners discriminating against renters on benefits is yet another factor squeezing working class people out.”