Help For Renters Facing Eviction In Sefton

The eviction ban brought in due to the COVID-19 pandemic was lifted in Sefton on Sunday September 20th, leaving renters and landlords unsure about how to proceed.

Campaigners have been calling for an extension to the eviction ban, with many believing it will lead to a rise in homelessness, reports The Champion. But landlords claim it is unfair for the ban to carry on because it has left them powerless to oust those committing anti-social behaviour or withholding rent for reasons unrelated to Covid-19.

To help ensure that the risks of eviction are minimised, Sefton Council’s Homeless Prevention Service is looking to contact tenants and landlords. By emailing athomeless.prevention@sefton.gov.uk or calling 07966 698065 or 07870 379586, private, rented and social housing tenants can get support to help them maintain their tenancy. They can also provide assistance with moving on to more affordable, and suitable accommodation if required. Landlords facing issues such as rent arrears and late or inconsistent rent payments or who have concerns about vulnerable tenants can also contact the team for support in resolving the situation.

Cllr Trish Hardy, Sefton Council’s cabinet member for communities and housing, said: “We know that COVID-19 has had an impact on many people’s circumstances and has had a negative effect on many households’ incomes, which could make housing costs a problem. The sooner tenants facing problems contact us, the better the chance that we can work with them to find practical solutions that avoid conflicts, evictions and the costs of legal proceedings.”

Cllr Hardy added: “And by working with landlords facing difficulties, we can also help them reach solutions without the legal costs and lost rent that can arise from disputes and evictions.”

Sefton Council wants to hear from tenants who have received an eviction notice or have rent arrears, who are managing outstanding and current debts and who are trying to reduce their expenses or get the most from their income. People having problems applying for Discretionary Housing Payments and with concerns about their own or family members’ mental health, drug or alcohol issues affecting your tenancy should also contact the service.

Labour Leader Calls For Extension To Eviction Ban

Sir Keir Starmer says the evictions ban in England and Wales “must be extended” before the measure ran out on Sunday, and wants the government to offer “a credible plan to keep their promise that no renter will lose their home because of coronavirus”.

The temporary ban, initially introduced in March to help those financially hit by the virus lockdown, has been extended twice, reports the BBC. But the government says it has taken “unprecedented action” to help renters. But Labour says they must act now to avoid “a homelessness crisis this winter”. According to recent estimated figures from the homelessness charity Shelter, at least 322,000 private renters have fallen in to rent arrears since the start of the pandemic, which could put their home at risk.

Labour’s shadow housing secretary Thangam Debbonaire said: “Coronavirus cases are rising, vast swathes of the country are set to be under local lockdown, and the Covid jobs crisis is set to get worse. This is no time for the government to re-start evictions. She also accused the government of wasting the “short time they bought themselves by extending the ban in August, prioritising reopening old wounds on Brexit above protecting renters”.

Ms Debbonaire argues that Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick should have used parliamentary time to pass laws preventing automatic evictions instead of introducing the Internal Market Bill. Labour wants the government to fulfil a manifesto commitment to end Section 21 or “no fault” evictions that allow landlords to take back possession of a property without needing to give a reason for their decision.

Speaking ahead of the evictions ban expiring in England, Ben Beadle, Chief Executive of the National Residential Landlords Association, said the government’s framework “broadly strike the right balance between protecting tenants affected by COVID and the need for landlords to tackle the most severe cases including anti-social tenants and cases of extreme rent arrears”.

He added: “That said, we remain concerned that the expectation for landlords, the majority of whom are not property tycoons, is to go without rent for anything up to a year before such cases are deemed a priority. Such a position is not sustainable, especially as there is almost no chance of the rent arrears being recouped.”

Siddhartha Mehta, a campaigner with public health charity Medact, said the recent spike in COVID-19 cases meant there “couldn’t be a worse time” to lift the ban. Ensuring people have decent housing is an “important part” of efforts to stop the spread of the pandemic, she said. “The government says that evictions won’t be enforced in areas where there is a local lockdown in place, but if it accepts that people being evicted risks worsening the pandemic, why is it lifting the evictions ban at all?”

A housing department spokesperson said Labour’s claims were “misleading,” adding “we’ve taken unprecedented action to support renters by banning evictions for six months, preventing people getting into financial hardship and helping businesses to pay salaries. We have now gone further by changing the law to increase notice periods to six months to help keep people in their homes over the winter months and introducing a ‘winter truce’ on the enforcement of evictions for the first time. In addition we have put in place a welfare safety net of nearly £9.3bn and increased Local Housing Allowance rates to cover the lowest 30% of market rents.”

Government Action Needed To Avoid A ‘Wave of Homelessness’

With the temporary eviction freeze ending in England and Wales yesterday (September 20), campaigners are urging the Government to extend it to prevent a wave of homelessness. Councils are calling on ministers to provide more cash to support renters, with fears that lifting the ban before the Job Retention Scheme ends could force thousands into debt and out of their homes, reports the Big Issue.

Ride Out Recession Alliance member organisation Shelter said 322,000 people have fallen into arrears since lockdown as a result of job losses, income cuts and issues in the social security system. And the District Councils’ Network warned that as many as 500,000 people could be at risk of homelessness, including 108,000 lone parents at the greatest risk of losing their homes and a further 100,000 people aged between 16-24 years old who have seen their incomes slashed and jobs hit by the pandemic.

Newham Council said it fears up to 20 per cent of tenants in the area could already be in arrears. Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz said lifting the ban now “suggests that the COVID-19 crisis is over but we know that is far from the case,” adding: “We are currently fighting to halt a slide back into a second wave of infection. At a time when people are being forced to miss work either due to new infection, or because they have to self-isolate within a household, or because, to the shame of this Government, they can’t get a test, it is plain wrong to threaten people with losing their home.”

“In Scotland the ban has been extended to March 2021, yet households in England and Wales are still left facing dire situations. The ban should not be lifted until the Government has a credible plan to ensure no one is at risk of losing their home because of coronavirus.”

Last month, before the ban was extended for four weeks beyond August 23, the British Medical Association (BMA) warned that lifting the eviction ban could drive a surge in COVID-19 infections.  As well as calling for an extension, the BMA said the Government should introduce legislation that places a 12-month duty on local authorities to provide safe accommodation for everyone sleeping rough or homeless and unable to self-isolate, and for those who are at risk of becoming so.

Meanwhile, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) is urging ministers to use the upcoming Spending Review to deliver more genuinely affordable homes for social rent. Darren Baxter, policy and partnerships manager at JRF said: “The temporary pause on evictions has held many households steady at a time of profound economic uncertainty. After this protection is withdrawn, there is a real risk of an increase in evictions as many renters will find their incomes are well below what is needed to meet their housing costs.”

“As the country continues to grapple with an unemployment crisis that has yet to peak, this means an increased risk of private renters being pushed into debt and homelessness. We welcome other protections brought in for renters as a necessary first step, but we now need to see much bolder action. At the upcoming Budget and Spending Review, the Government has an opportunity to redesign our housing system so that it lifts people out of poverty rather than drags them further down.”

Mr Baxter concluded: “Investment at scale in social housing would not only significantly increase the supply of homes for families on low incomes, it would also provide an effective boost to our economic recovery and produce significant savings on social security.”

Earlier this week Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, wrote to the housing secretary asking for the power to impose a rent freeze on the English capital for two years in a bid to protect those put at risk when evictions begin again.

Free Online Training To Identify Modern Slavery Amongst The Homeless

Crisis, the national charity for homeless people, and Hestia, the lead support provider of advocacy for victims of modern slavery, have developed a free training package which explores the links between homelessness and modern slavery. The training has been specifically designed for homelessness organisations and sex work charities, as part of Project TILI.

Project TILI is funded by Tampon Tax funding and seeks to develop a comprehensive scoping exercise to identify the issues faced by female victims of modern slavery in relation to homelessness. This project has been developed as a partnership between key charities working in the fields of domestic abuse, modern slavery, homelessness and housing. The delivery partners of the project are Crisis UK, Hestia (London), Bawso (Wales), Belfast & Lisburn Women’s Aid (Northern Ireland) and Shared Lives Plus UK.

Women who escape modern slavery are particularly vulnerable to re-exploitation by predatory individuals, who may offer accommodation, due to vulnerabilities including homelessness, destitution and learned behaviour. However, there is still limited understanding of the scale of modern slavery amongst the homeless population and understanding is even more limited with regard to female victims. Many homelessness charities still struggle to identify potential victims of modern slavery. It is hoped that by training homelessness charities, it will be able to increase identification rates of women who have been victims of modern slavery and enable them to escape life on the streets.

The training has now been developed for online delivery due to COVID-19, although face-to-face training will be available again in the future. ‘Understanding the link between homelessness and modern slavery’ is split into 2 half days, when delivered online. The course will enable frontline professionals to:

  • Understand more about the scale and nature of modern slavery and its relationship with homelessness;
  • Identify when someone you are working with is experiencing or is at risk of modern slavery;
  • Understand statutory support available to victims of modern slavery and how to access support.

After completing the training, attendees will be provided with a certificate of completion and will gain access to multiple useful resources and links, including modern slavery and homelessness reports, videos, articles, training package, leaflets and more!

Organisations that receive training will also participate in data collection. Whenever a woman who is homeless and affected by modern slavery is identified by an organisation which received the training, her pseudonymised data will be input into a database that will help us to understand the links between female homelessness and modern slavery. The organisers will provide regular reports of our findings to participating organisations and will produce annual intelligence reports that will support local police forces in their efforts to combat modern slavery.

Since starting the training delivery, they have already learnt that professionals who have completed the training have improved their response in identifying vulnerable potential victims and some of these have already been referred to the appropriate statutory support, where they receive support.

If you are interested in participating in Project TILI and would like to coordinate free training for frontline staff within your organisation then please email tili.training@hestia.org or contact the Training Lead, Viktor Dubrava directly on 07825 182317.

Council Rejects Plan To Fine Rough Sleepers

An attempt by Conservative politicians to push through proposals to fine homeless people for sleeping in doorways in three coastal towns in Dorset has been rejected after an outcry from people across the UK.

The Tory councillors in Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole are arguing that a tough regime is needed to ease residents’ concerns and help boost the area’s economy, reports The Guardian. But on Wednesday the cabinet of the local authority, BCP council, which is controlled by an alliance of other parties and independent councillors, strongly criticised the idea.

The council’s leader, Vikki Slade, a Liberal Democrat, said she had been contacted by people from across the country who had asked her not to follow the Tory plan. A petition signed by more than 6,000 people – many of them from outside Dorset – was also delivered. Slade said she had now asked council officers to look at whether lockers could be provided for rough sleepers to store bedding in during the day and to examine how other areas have tackled “professional” beggars. Slade said: “What we are trying to do is treat people as humans and not as vermin, which is the way we have been perceived.”

The row centres on a plan for a Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) taking in the three towns. Earlier this year BCP officers carried out a public consultation and put forward a proposal to ban behaviour such as drinking alcohol in public while acting in an antisocial manner and causing harassment, alarm or distress. At a meeting of the council’s overview and scrutiny board last month, Tory councillors claimed the measures did not go far enough. They argued that begging, loitering in a public place, causing an obstruction in shop doorways or car parks and leaving personal belongings such as bedding or bags unattended should also be included.

Six Tory councillors and one independent backed the idea of the stricter regime and put it forward to the cabinet. At Wednesday’s meeting, Tories insisted the regime they proposed would give enforcement officers the chance to engage and help homeless people, and that fines or prosecutions were only a last resort. The Tory chair of the overview and scrutiny board, Philip Broadhead, said the idea was to tackle antisocial behaviour. “Nobody wants to target homeless people or rough sleepers,” he said. Broadhead argued that a scheme similar to the one the Tories had backed for the three towns had worked in Poole. “It would be silly to water down the enforcement abilities,” he said.

Kieron Wilson, an independent councillor, said the Tory measures discriminated against some of the most vulnerable in the area and made very little sense. He said: “Fining those who have nothing is not only extremely harsh, it is a distraction from solving the actual problems we as a conurbation and a country face. We are in a crisis that needs solving with social housing. With some of our more vulnerable residents we need patience and persistence. Unacceptable behaviour should be punished but being without a home should not.”

David Brown, a Lib Dem, told the meeting that when the Tories were in control in Bournemouth, they had bagpipe music piped in at the station and introduced bars on benches to deter rough sleepers. He said: “Those were obnoxious steps to take. They targeted homeless people and damaged the reputation of Bournemouth.”

The cabinet voted unanimously against the Tories’ PSPO proposals and asked officers to launch a consultation on the more limited measures they had originally proposed. Lara ten Caten, a lawyer with the human rights group Liberty, said: “We need this to mark the end of cruel and misguided parts of a PSPO intended to criminalise people simply because they’re poor. If you are rough sleeping or begging, you should be able to turn to your council for help and support – something clearly supported by residents.”

“Sustainable Fashion” Campaign Launched To Help The Homeless

risis, the national charity for homeless people, is launching a new campaign to coincide with the re-opening of its shops for the Autumn season on Monday 7th September.

‘Change into Change’ has been created to highlight the positive social impact buying second hand, sustainable fashion can have. Crisis has nine charity shops in key locations across London all selling quality pre-loved goods including clothes, shoes, accessories, books and homeware. They also offer up-cycled furniture that has been restored by Crisis clients who have been affected by homelessness.  Many of the shops have a cafe and serve as a community hub for people to come together.

Four of the stores (Dalston, Peckham, Finsbury Park and Elephant & Castle) will be decorated with new images of models wearing clothing from the stores, shot in a high-end editorial style. The shops raise funds that are used to tackle homelessness - through providing education, training and support with housing, employment and health to people across Britain, and campaigning for the changes that will end homelessness once and for all.

Throughout the coronavirus outbreak Crisis has been focusing on ensuring people affected by homelessness remain safe, continuing to provide one-to-one support, delivering food packages and campaigning to introduce emergency legislation that will protect people from ending up back on the streets.  Although the stores had to close for several months during lockdown, they are now fully open and have been receiving many donations from householders who cleaned out their closets during lockdown.

Georgina Evans, Head of Retail at Crisis, said: “Everyone should have a safe and stable home, and our shops raise vital funds to help Crisis achieve that goal. We have been thrilled by some of the stylish outfits we have received since the end of lockdown and ‘Change into Change’ helps to show them off, while giving something back. It shines a spotlight on the fashion we provide that contributes to our efforts to end homelessness for good.”

“We are relieved that we can once more open our doors to provide a space for people to come together, share ideas, and enjoy a Crisis coffee and a piece of cake. Our shops are also a place for us to train people affected by homelessness with skills that they can use to find confidence and rebuild their lives. We rely on dedicated volunteers to help our shops thrive so please get in touch if you would like to help out.”

The campaign was gifted to Crisis by a newly-formed creative agency, Jagged Edge. Tom Sitton, of the agency, said: “We’re delighted to have worked with Crisis on changing the perception of what it means to shop at charity shops. As an agency, we’re fully committed to Crisis’ mission of ending homelessness, especially in a time as trying as this. The idea that a change of outfit can have a positive social impact is something we hope will resonate.”

London’s Rough Sleepers Are Back On The Streets

Dozens of people have been pictured sleeping rough in one of London’s most affluent streets, as charities call for No 10 to find a long-term solution to help the homeless amid the pandemic.

At least 20 men and women were seen wrapped in blankets lying on cardboard and dumped mattress outside a Mercedes showroom in Park Lane, Westminster, reports The Metro. A shopkeeper said he believed the group were mostly from Eastern Europe and sees them set up their makeshift beds each night at about 8.30pm – just metres from several of the UK’s most famous five-star hotels. He said that the group were peaceful but was worried that the number of people sleeping rough in the street had “increased a lot”.

The shopkeeper said: “I only see them at night, I don’t know many but there were a lot there yesterday. And in the morning I am left to clear up their mess.” Almost 15,000 rough sleepers were put in emergency accommodation or hotels since the start of the UK’s coronavirus outbreak under the £3.2 million ‘Everyone In’ scheme. Local councils were told to make sure all rough sleepers had somewhere safe to isolate. But most contracts were expected to expire at the end of June, raising concerns that many have had to, or will need to, go back onto the streets.

Charities have now urged the government to find a sustainable solution to help rough sleepers, calling for emergency legislation and more council funding. Crisis told Metro.co.uk it is urging the government to continue to provide safe accommodation “regardless of immigration status or other arbitrary legal barriers”. Chief Executive Jon Sparkes said: “No one should be forced to return to the streets and left exposed and a greater risk of coronavirus because they are unable to isolate or even wash their hands regularly. We are calling on Government to adopt emergency homelessness legislation, backed by funding, that would guarantee all those who are homeless with temporary accommodation over the next twelve months”.

He said such legislation would also quickly protect renters from eviction if they have got into arrears as a result of the financial impact of the pandemic. His calls came as the eviction ban in England and Wales is set to be lifted in just three weeks’ time – after the housing secretary extended it by another month. Charities warned last week that the nation is facing a wider crisis with 75,000 households identifying as homeless or at risk of becoming so before lockdown.

During lockdown, data revealed that rough sleeping rose sharply despite the government’s scheme, as more people had become homeless after losing jobs. Others could not get access to public funds – particularly foreign nationals – and many struggled after services they relied on shut down, reported The Guardian. Meanwhile, hundreds of rough sleepers are believed to have been evicted from hotel rooms and back onto the streets due to antisocial behaviour, the data found.

Youth homelessness charity Centrepoint told The Metro that by ‘simply letting’ the Everyone In scheme end without intensive support, former rough sleepers will not have much hope of securing a tenancy. Head of public affairs Paul Noblet said: “Housing rough sleepers in hotels was not a sustainable solution over the longer term but the very least these people deserve is an exit strategy from the government that affords those former rough sleepers who are working towards sustaining a tenancy the dignity of a chance to do so. The government has two options, to support local councils to work on the successes of the Everybody In scheme or let thousands of vulnerable people fall through the cracks and end up back on the street.”

Radical Action Needed To Tackle A “Tsunami” Of Homelessness

Campaigners want empty commercial buildings to become makeshift shelters this winter as social distancing severely impacts the number of beds available for the expected “tsunami” of homelessness.

Outreach teams are predicting a sharp rise in the number of people sleeping rough due to a perfect storm of factors caused or exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic – not least, the end of both the eviction ban and the furlough scheme. And with more space needed for Covid-secure shelters, innovative measures are being put forward to tackle the crisis, such as taking advantage of the empty office blocks and commercial buildings in town and city centres across the country.

Jon Glackin, founder of outreach group Streets Kitchen, told HuffPost UK: “We’re going to have to start thinking about unorthodox methods. There are lots of empty buildings that could be re-appropriated and put to good use – that’s the simple answer.” Glackin is no stranger to this. Two years ago Streets Kitchen took over an empty building in north London for use as a winter shelter

The economic toll of the pandemic, and the social distancing measures in place to tackle it, mean already stretched shelters will likely see more people asking for help, but be severely limited in how many they can take in. Lucy Abraham, CEO of Glass Door Homeless Charity, told HuffPost UK: “The current advice is that accommodation with communal airspaces is not allowed because of the risk of the spread of Covid. So that means any shared night shelters, dormitory-style accommodation can’t operate under current government advice guidelines. Our normal service would be five night shelters on any one night of the winter, operating across London and we would normally accommodate 170 people every night. So our challenge now is what do we provide to people? And that’s not just us – there are thousands of night shelter places across the country.”

The government’s Everyone In scheme, launched in March, housed almost 15,000 in emergency accommodation such as hotels and was hailed as a successful – albeit temporary – programme. ″[The Everyone In scheme] definitely made a big impact, no doubt about it, but you have to remember that homelessness is only increasing,” says Glackin. “There’s illegal evictions; we’ve had all the backpackers’ hostels closed during the pandemic; the hotels closed down and B&Bs, even sofa-surfers, [were] being kicked out – so there was always an increase in homelessness which we were seeing from day one but it’s only just being recognised now. And then you’ve got the eviction ban lifting. We’re going to see a tsunami.”

According to the latest figures from the Greater London Authority (GLA), sleeping rough in London increased 33% year-on-year between April and June, while the number of new rough sleepers rose by 77%. A government source suggested the rise was due to the increased reporting of people on the street so they could be housed, with most only spending one night sleeping rough. The number of people deemed to be “living on the street” was down 33%.

But there is also a larger problem on the horizon than the number of people already homeless or rough sleeping. The furlough scheme, which has frozen nearly 10m pre-Covid jobs, and the eviction ban will expire in the coming weeks. Both will almost certainly result in a huge rise in unemployment – which could in turn lead to a rise in people being forced onto the streets.

“The big question is: what about the new rough sleepers?” says Abraham.

“We know the demand is going to be there this winter. We’re already seeing people who are losing their jobs because of Covid. I strongly believe that the economic impact of Covid at the moment is just being kicked down the road.”

Far-Right Thugs Harass Asylum Seekers

A man has been charged with common assault after a far-right group targeted Coventry hotels used by the government to shelter asylum seekers during the pandemic.

West Midlands’ police officers were called to reports of a disorder at the Coventry Hill hotel at 12.50pm on Saturday, reports The Guardian. “A man who works at the hotel was assaulted by two men as he encountered a group of people who were not staying there,” a spokesperson said. Two men were later arrested at the Royal Court hotel, two miles away, on suspicion of assault, and were taken into police custody. The rest of the group were escorted back to their minibus.

Officers confirmed on Sunday that a 30-year-old Warwickshire man had been charged with common assault. James White of Southam, has been bailed to appear at Coventry magistrates’ court on 22 October. There is no indication at this stage that White is a member of Britain First. The second man, 23, who was also arrested, was released without a charge.

Taiwo Owatemi, Coventry North West’s Labour MP, tweeted “I’m aware of this incident and have written to both the Home Office and West Mids Police for more information. Britain First does not represent the vast majority of Coventry. A hateful minority will not falter the strength and welcoming spirit of our local community.”

In recent days Britain First has entered multiple hotels across the country that are being used by the Home Office to accommodate asylum seekers during the pandemic. In one video, posted on social media, group members can be seen entering a hotel in Bromsgrove, near Birmingham, knocking on doors to ask residents where they come from and accuse them of wasting taxpayers’ money. Other similar videos by far-right organisations are circulating on YouTube, including one that shows asylum seekers being harassed outside their hotel in Newcastle. The Coventry Hill hotel is one of at least two hotels in the borough being used to shelter people seeking asylum. The city council has sought to use its powers to prevent the use of a third for the same purpose, according to the Coventry Observer.

On Friday, the Independent reported that the Home Office is “offering premises housing asylum seekers assistance with physical security, such as barriers and hoardings, if they have concerns or have been visited by protesters”. Britain First also appears to have mistakenly visited a hotel run by Camden council, in north London, providing shelter to rough sleepers under the separate “Covid protect” scheme. The Guardian understands that additional security precautions are not being considered there as the situation was handled swiftly by hotel security and staff.

Jon Sparkes, chief executive of Crisis, told the Guardian: “Every human being should be treated with dignity and compassion, and never more so when they are seeking help and support. We would urge [the] government to ensure the immediate safety of those who are homeless and in hotels, and to treat the harassment of people in them with the utmost seriousness. Too often people who are homeless are subject to hate and abuse, and it has to stop.”

A spokesman for the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said it was working with charity partners to put measures in place to prevent homeless people sheltering from Covid-19 in hotels from being targeted, “mistakenly or otherwise, by these rightwing groups”.

A government spokesperson said: “Efforts to fuel resentment towards asylum seekers and create community tension are completely unacceptable and all incidents at asylum accommodation sites are reported to the Home Office immediately. We then work with the provider to put in additional measures if required. We continually review the security at asylum accommodation sites with providers, who work closely with local police to ensure action is taken if someone tries to access a site.”

Blanket Ban On Renting To Benefit Claimants “Unlawful”

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.