An investigation by Shelter has found many letting agents are refusing to rent to tenants who receive housing benefits.
The probe, a joint project from the housing charity and the National Housing Federation, involved undercover researchers posing as prospective tenants.
The researchers, who claimed to be in employment and receiving housing benefit top-ups, called the offices of 149 leading lettings agents.
The report alleges that one in ten of the offices refused to let to ‘DSS’ tenants, with one of the country’s leading lettings agents appearing to have a blanket ban in eight of its 25 branches.
A Legal Challenge Incoming
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Shelter believes this may be a form of discrimination and is planning a legal challenge under the Equality Act, as their findings particularly impact women and disabled people, who are more likely to receive housing benefit top-ups.
In February 2018, Rosie Keogh won compensation for sex discrimination after a lettings agent refused to consider her as a tenant because she received benefits.
Keogh successfully argued that this discriminated against women, and particularly single women and single mothers – as Department for Work and Pensions figures show they’re more likely to receive state benefits than single men.
A Right to Housing?
Image Credit: Mark Moz
The right to adequate housing is a basic human right, and it’s protected by the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
Lack of adequate housing also impacts a range of rights, including the right to a private and family life, protected by Article 8 of the Human Rights Convention.
This includes the protection of a person’s physical and psychological integrity, which is arguably compromised by the stress and anxiety of being unable to find suitable housing.
“Treat People Fairly”
Shelter Chief Executive, Polly Neate, believes letting agents and landlords should end the blanket bans.
“Rejecting all housing benefit tenants is morally bankrupt, and because these practices overwhelmingly impact women and disabled people, they could be unlawful.
“That’s why we’re urging all landlords and letting agents to get rid of housing benefit bans, and treat people fairly on a case-by-case basis.”
Because these practices overwhelmingly impact women and disabled people, they could be unlawful
Polly Neate, Chief Executive, Shelter
Some lettings agents and letting websites state ‘No DSS’ – a reference to the Department for Social Services which was dissolved in 2001 and replaced by the Department for Work and Pensions.
Lettings agents argue a change to the government policy of providing housing benefit in arrears, and therefore rent, would help redress the issue.
Building more housing would also be beneficial, as there is huge demand for affordable housing, with renters who receive housing benefit losing out in a competitive market.
With around 1.6m adults receiving housing benefit to meet private rent rates, and the well-known shortage of adequate housing in the United Kingdom, Shelter’s legal challenge could have a major impact.