Thousands of landlords are trying to avoid renting their properties to benefit claimants, despite a judge ruling a blanket ban was unlawful.
About 75% of listings on the website OpenRent said the landlords would not accept people on benefits, reports the BBC. It comes after the ruling a single mother-of-two had experienced indirect discrimination when a letting agent refused to rent to her. OpenRent said it advised landlords to assess tenants “on their own merits”. At the court hearing in July, the judge ruled “No DSS” rental bans were against equality laws. The mother had ended up homeless with her two children, when her case was taken on by housing charity Shelter.
DSS is the initialism for the Department of Social Security, which was replaced in 2001 by the Department for Work and Pensions. It has become a shorthand on property websites for people claiming benefits. The BBC analysed more than 9,000 listings on OpenRent.
Polly Neate, chief executive of housing charity Shelter, said: “Last month’s ruling should be a wake-up call for landlords and letting agents to clean up their act and treat all renters equally. We won’t stop fighting DSS discrimination until it’s banished for good. OpenRent should ban landlords from advertising their properties as ‘DSS not accepted’ – and remind them of their legal duty not to discriminate.”
A spokesperson for the Equality and Human Right Commission (EHRC), said: “These figures show that there is still some way to go before we can truly end the discrimination against women and disabled people who claim benefits. If landlords and estate agents don’t change their policies and practices, they will be at risk of claims of discrimination from would-be tenants.”
The National Residential Landlords Association’s deputy director for policy and research, John Stewart, said it had “always advised landlords they should not blanket ban benefit claimants” but the “fundamental issue was the affordability of renting”. He said a variety of reasons could explain why rental listings said benefit claimants were not accepted, including:
- The timeliness and levels of benefit awards – including complaints about universal credit, a shortfall between housing benefit and private sector rents and in some cases, fluctuating levels of benefit income
- Banks and insurers saw benefit claimants as higher risk
- Landlords trying to avoid extra fees for tenants who would fail credit checks and references.
“We’ve discovered recently how people’s circumstances can change at the drop of a hat,” Mr Stewart said. “What landlords think might be a sound, sensible business decision [not to rent to benefit claimants] can soon not be.”
The National Residential Landlords Association said not accepting benefit claimants for rental properties was “likely to become more of an issue if the unemployment rates rise at the end of the furlough scheme.”
In July, District Judge Victoria Mark ruled at York County Court: “Rejecting tenancy applications because the applicant is in receipt of housing benefit was unlawfully discriminating on the grounds of sex and disability”. The ruling of indirect discrimination was due to the fact women and those with disabilities are disproportionately more likely to be in receipt of housing benefit, and therefore disproportionately affected by blanket “No DSS” bans. And this was, therefore, contrary to the Equality Act 2010, she said.
July’s legal action was backed by Shelter and supported by the EHRC, the Nationwide Foundation and barrister Tessa Buchanan at Garden Court Chambers. The case established ‘persuasive authority’ in law rather than a legal precedent, so it may help guide other courts in reaching future decisions, but is not binding.