DSS Discrimination: letting agents' excuses

DSS Discrimination: letting agents' excuses

Our DSS discrimination campaign has lifted the lid on practices and policies many would like to believe simply didn’t exist in 2018. 

Recently Vicky Foxcroft, MP for Lewisham and Deptford, raised with us how shocked she had been to discover the impossible situation people were being put in. During regular constituency drop-in surgeries, Ms Foxcroft was repeatedly faced with constituents in receipt of housing benefit being denied somewhere to live by multiple letting agencies. 

Shocked by the discriminatory practice and concerned about the scale of the problem, the MP decided to investigate. Aiming to assess the size of the problem in her constituency, Vicky wrote to a number of local agencies and asked directly what their policies were regarding tenants in receipt of benefits. 

The responses were consistently negative, revealing widespread discriminatory practice and even deep-rooted adverse stereotyping of people who claim benefits. As discovered throughout our campaign, the responses from letting agents fall into reoccurring categories; 

Outright ban, no explanation

I confirm that sorry we do not offer any tenancies to people in receipt of state benefit. Kind regards.

Agency manager

This is a pretty shocking response, considering it was addressed to the local MP, offering no justification or reasoning at all. One line, one message – no. 

We’re planning to take cases to court to show that these policies are indirect discrimination under the Equality Act. I wonder if these letting agents would have any more to say in front of a judge? 

Blame the landlord

95% of our landlords would be against the receipt of welfare.

Landlords are simply telling us that they do not want housing benefit and will not accept it.

Landlords generally prefer professional tenants not on state benefits.

Agencies

This is by far the most popular excuse given to not let to people in receipt of benefits, produced in five out of the six responses our MP received. Landlords were blamed repeatedly during our mystery shopping exercise in which we contacted 149 different branches of letting agencies. 

If it wasn’t so awful, this would be an almost humorously blatant attempt to duck the blame and shirk responsibility. Letting agents, it is your job to advise landlords and ensure they are operating correctly and lawfully – that is your business. 

Far from absolving themselves from potential legal challenges, as outlined in our previous blog, these agencies are facilitating discrimination and so may be liable to legal action along with the landlord. 

Blame the lenders

Many buy-to-let lenders do not allow for renting to tenants on state benefits.

Agency

We know that some lenders have policies which stipulate homes cannot be let to people in receipt of benefits. We recently heard from a landlord with a NatWest buy-to-let mortgage. NatWest told them that they either need to evict their current tenant or face an expensive charge simply because their tenant was in receipt of benefits. This landlord is challenging NatWest’s discriminatory policy and calling on the government to change the law so banks cannot discriminate in this way. NatWest are now revising their policy. 

As the NatWest case shows, lenders can justify these policies no more than landlords or letting agents. Lots of lenders, like Nationwide and BM Solutions, have already recognised this and changed their policies. We’re calling on all lenders to do the same, if they want to avoid being accused of breaching the Equality Act. 

Blame the benefits system

Too much paperwork and (landlords) cannot deal with waiting to be paid.

Agency

While we know that there are frustrations with the benefits system – and we continue to actively campaign for reform – we do not accept that this justifies or excuses discrimination against everyone who has to claim. Claimants did not design the benefit system and should not be penalised for its flaws. We want all people to be treated equally and on a case-by-case basis. 

Blame previous bad tenants

When these tenancy comes to end, landlord end up hugely out of pocket due to damages and non-payment of rent, and cost of ending tenancy.

Agency

A shining example of discrimination and stereotyping of people who claim benefits. Yes, we know bad tenants exist. But bad tenants cannot be rooted out simply through blanket bans. In the same way that you could not judge how good a tenant will be based on what colour their eyes were, you cannot judge them based on their source of income. If the agency is doing their job properly and obtaining references for potential tenants, then the risk of letting to bad tenants would be significantly reduced. 

Our 2017 landlord survey carried out with YouGov showed that landlords currently letting to people claiming housing benefit were just as likely to be profitable as those who are not. 

The final excuse and perhaps our favourite so far… 

Point to your charitable activities

We appreciate how tough things are out there, supporting the Trussell Trust with food drop-off points in each of our four local branches.

Agency

This agent acknowledging the desperate situation that many people are living in, yet seemingly unable to connect the dots and see the part their discrimination is playing. 

It is difficult to understand the logic or justification of collecting food donations yet contributing to homelessness. Exclusionary, discriminatory, blanket bans which deny a whole section of society a place to live based on assumptions and prejudice are trapping both individuals and families in homelessness. Supporting charities is great, but active discrimination is absolutely not, and the damage being done with these bans is so significant that it cannot be excused. 

So, what do we think of the agents’ excuses? 

None of these excuses justify the role that agents play in discriminating against tenants in receipt of benefits. Agents must step up and end this potentially unlawful practice, or they risk having to test their excuses in front of a judge. 

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