Letting agents found to discriminate against people on housing benefit

Ryan Bembridge

August 22, 2018

Five of England’s major letting agents discriminate against tenants on housing benefit, a report by homeless charity Shelter and social housing provider the National Housing Federation has found.

In an undercover investigation 149 regional letting agent branches were called by researchers posing as prospective tenants. One in 10 had a branch policy not to let to anyone on housing benefit, regardless of whether they could afford the rent.

The report pointed the finger at Haart as the worst offender, as a third of its branches (eight in 25) have an outright ban on housing benefit tenants.

Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, said: “This ugly undercurrent of discrimination is wreaking havoc on hundreds of thousands of people’s lives. ‘No DSS’ is an outdated and outrageous example of blatant prejudice.

“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.”

David Orr, chief executive of the National Housing Federation, which represents social landlords, said: “Letting agents should be ashamed that discrimination is still happening today in the form of an outright ban on people simply because they depend on housing benefit. We know this is purely based on prejudice.

“Landlords and letting agents must see sense and assess people on a case by case basis, whilst government urgently need to invest in the building of new social homes.”

However David Cox, chief executive, ARLA Propertymark, a professional body for letting agents, blamed the government and banks rather than the agents.

He said: “This is a systemic problem with how housing benefit works. Rents are paid in advance, whereas housing benefit is paid in arrears, and therefore with such a shortage of rental accommodation, landlords and agents will naturally choose a tenant who can pay the rent when it is due, rather than a tenant who is always a month in arrears.

“We have called on government time and time again to resolve this problem. But our calls have fallen on deaf ears.

“To make the situation worse, many lenders also have a clause in their buy-to-let mortgage agreements which prevent landlords from letting to housing benefit tenants.

“This situation does not exist because of landlords or letting agents, it is a systemic problem caused by government and the banks.”

Almost half (48%) of branches called said they had no suitable homes or landlords willing to let to someone on housing benefit.

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