Stop DSS Discrimination: Live blog

Stop DSS Discrimination: Live blog

This blog rounds up everything we’re doing in the fight to end DSS discrimination.

We’re campaigning against discrimination faced by renters receiving Housing Benefit. So-called ‘no DSS’ policies are unfairly locking hundreds of thousands of people out of homes they could otherwise afford, pushing them closer to homelessness. You can join our campaign here.

Stop by this blog regularly for the latest updates on the campaign!

8 March: Meet the inspiring women taking on DSS discrimination in the courts – and winning!

It’s International Women’s Day and this year’s theme is #EachforEqual –which is all about challenging stereotypes, fighting bias, and broadening our perceptions. To mark the occasion, we’d like you to meet three women who are doing just that: they’re taking on DSS discrimination in the courts – and winning.

At Shelter, we’ve been so proud to stand alongside Rosie, Philippa, and Amanda as they’ve challenged the discrimination they’ve faced first-hand. You can read their inspiring stories here.

5 March: Amanda shares her story

Amanda is another of the tenants who joined us in writing to OpenRent, calling on them to end DSS discrimination on their website.

In a guest blog, Amanda shares a very personal take on our campaign. Thanks to people like Amanda – who challenged the DSS discrimination she faced first-hand – our campaign is stronger. Please take a moment to have a read of her story.

5 March: The Property Ombudsman responds to ‘No DSS’ legal victories

Today, the Property Ombudsman has responded to the legal victories of Emma and Amanda, who both won out-of-court settlements against ‘No DSS’ letting agents, by issuing a reminder to its member agents of their obligations not to discriminate.

Katrine Sporle, Property Ombudsman, said: ‘Whilst rental properties are investments for landlords, they are homes for tenants. To be excluded from a significant portion of the homes available simply because you are in receipt of Housing Benefits cannot be considered as treating consumers equally.’

2 March: 5,000 Shelter supporters back tenants call for OpenRent to end DSS discrimination

OpenRent have provided a statement in response to Stephen’s article in The Mirror. Stephen is one of the tenants who wrote to OpenRent last month, but we’re still waiting to hear anything back from OpenRent…

5,000 Shelter supporters have now signed the open letter in solidarity with the group of tenants receiving housing benefit who wrote to them to protest DSS discrimination. Help us keep the pressure on OpenRent to reply and add your name to the letter.

1 March: Stephen, one of the tenants who wrote to OpenRent, shares his experience of DSS discrimination

Stephen, one of the tenants who wrote to OpenRent last month calling on them to end DSS discrimination on their site, has shared his story with The Mirror.

After an accident left Stephen with life-changing injuries, he was evicted for being disabled. Then he was forced to separate from his family and live in his car for six months when his applications to rent other properties were rejected by other landlords because he claims benefits.

It’s thanks to the bravery of people like Stephen that the campaign to End DSS Discrimination is being highlighted. There’s no excuse for letting agents and landlords to blindly discriminate against good tenants just because they receive some housing benefit. Read more about Stephen’s story.

27 February: No DSS is trending on Twitter

No DSS has been trending on Twitter today. If letting agents and landlords continue to blindly discriminate against those receiving housing benefit, they risk legal action and a hefty fine, so it’s great to see our message getting out there.

27 February: Landlord Helena on how to avoid being fined thousands for DSS discrimination

So, your letting agent advised you that renting your property to people on DSS is a bad idea? Well, they are wrong. This is actually discrimination and it’s unlawful.

In court, the responsibility of following such advice falls at the feet of the landlord. So, with recent cases showing that landlords could be on the receiving end of an eye-watering £13,000 bill as a result, landlord Helena explains how landlords can avoid being fined for DSS discrimination. Read Helena’s advice here.

27 February: Legal victories over ‘No DSS’ letting agents

The battle against DSS discrimination intensifies following news that there have been two more legal victories over ‘No DSS’ letting agents.

Backed by Shelter, Amanda Staples and Emma Loffler both won out-of-court settlements against letting agents using ‘No DSS’ policies on the grounds of indirect discrimination.

In Amanda’s case, the letting agent agreed to write a public letter of apology and to pay £3,000 compensation and the £10,000 legal costs. The agent in Emma’s case also issued a public letter of apology and paid £3,500 compensation and £2,500 towards legal costs.

You can read more about the story on BBC Online. Our Director of Campaigns, Greg Beales, was interviewed by the BBC’s Jeremy Vine about the legal victories.

26 February: BBC Radio 4 interviews Shelter CEO about the risk of legal action over ‘No DSS’

Today our Chief Executive, Polly Neate, was interviewed on BBC Radio 4’s Money Box about our campaign to End DSS Discrimination.

Polly’s message was clear: not only is ‘No DSS’ discrimination outdated and grossly unfair, it’s also unlawful under the Equality Act. This is because it overwhelming impacts women and disabled people, who are more likely to need support paying their rent.

Letting agents and landlords must treat potential tenants fairly on a case by case basis. If letting agents and landlords blindly discriminate against those receiving housing benefit or implement blanket bans, they risk legal action and a hefty fine. Listen to Polly’s interview here.

21 February: A closed door at OpenRent?

It’s been a week since we published an open letter to OpenRent. We’re asking OpenRent to end DSS discrimination on their site and to meet with the group of tenants receiving housing benefit who wrote to them. These tenants would like to tell OpenRent about their experiences of ‘DSS not accepted’ adverts on the site, and what they think can be done to improve the situation for everyone using OpenRent.

Yet one week on from publishing the letter, we still haven’t heard anything… Will you send them a reminder that we’re waiting to hear back from them? Click here to share a message with OpenRent on Twitter.

12 February: Good tenants locked out of thousands of properties on OpenRent

Today we published an open letter to OpenRent from a group of tenants receiving housing benefit. They’re calling on OpenRent to stop allowing ‘DSS not accepted’ adverts on their site and to end DSS discrimination. These tenants would like to be OpenRent customers but they’re locked out of thousands of the properties available on the website simply because they receive housing benefit.

OpenRent says their platform is the place that good landlords go, but two-thirds of the landlords on their site are discriminating against people who receive housing benefit. And they say they’re the site where landlords meet good tenants, so does that mean people receiving housing benefit are not good tenants?

Will you join us in telling OpenRent that we all deserve access to safe, affordable homes? Click here to read, sign, and share the letter.

10 February: 5 steps letting agents need to take to avoid DSS Discrimination

Today we’ve published a simple guide for letting agents that sets out what they need to do to make sure their business does not discriminate against people who receive benefits.

We know that ‘no DSS’ bans make it difficult for tenants receiving benefits to find a home – even if they can afford the rent. Tenants say bans make them feel like second-class citizens, and some people even become homeless as a result.

These bans are often unlawful and can leave letting agents at risk of being sued. But Shelter’s guide helps letting agents to comply with equality law. You can read and share our guide here.

21 January: BIBA put tackling DSS discrimination front and centre in 2020 manifesto

Some landlords claim that they cannot accept tenants in receipt of benefits because of a condition in their insurance policy. However, by surveying their brokers, the British Insurance Brokers’ Association (BIBA) have been able to demonstrate that cover is available, with hundreds of brokers able to place buildings and contents insurance for landlords wishing to let their properties to tenants in receipt of benefits.

At the launch of their 2020 manifesto, ‘Access’, in Parliament last night, BIBA made commitments to help landlords better access insurance for tenants in receipt of housing benefit. They also committed to work with government and credit scoring agencies to address barriers tenants receiving benefits can come up against when going through credit checks.

BIBA recently conducted a survey of its members, revealing that 58% of their brokers can arrange landlord’s rent protection insurance for landlords renting to tenants claiming benefits at very little or no extra cost. Finding the right insurance is up to the landlord, and is readily available and affordable through BIBA’s free Find a Broker service.

20 January: Enfield Council called to lead the way in tackling DSS discrimination

This morning in Parliament, the Enfield Poverty and Inequality Commission published a series of key recommendations for tackling poverty in the borough. The first is for Enfield to become the first council in the UK to end discrimination by letting agents and landlords against people receiving housing benefit.

Enfield can lead the way. Shelter strongly endorses the call for Enfield to take a stand against unlawful DSS discrimination in the borough. In doing so, Enfield would be a model for the rest of London and the country as a whole.

3 October: Government guidance clarification

Today we’re celebrating another win: the Competition and Markets Authority have updated the Government Guidance – Consumer protection law for lettings professionals is now to include clarification in relation to DSS discrimination.

The new guidance states: ‘The inclusion of housing benefit claimants as an example does not justify or excuse letting agents or property portals having blanket bans in place against those on housing benefit. In March 2019, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government announced plans to look at letting adverts which potentially discriminate against would-be tenants on housing benefit and made clear these should end. In light of this, the CMA would be concerned if terms that specify that a property cannot be occupied by a person in receipt of housing benefit are currently being included in any new contracts.’

9 August: The Mortgage Lender win

The Mortgage Lender today announced that they too have removed all ‘no DSS’ restrictions from their mortgages. Although not a huge household name, it’s another great win for the campaign! We now know of only two tiny lenders that still have these restrictions.

Less than half (45%) of landlords have a mortgage on any of the homes they let out (The Shelter/You Gov, 2017 Private renters survey), for those that do, we know of only two very small lenders that still have these restrictive clauses, for those minority that do still have restrictive clauses our view (backed by independent barristers) is that they would most likely be legally unenforceable (pursuant to s.142 Equality Act 2010) so any concerned landlords should approach their existing lender for advice.

22 July: Ministerial visit

Today Will Quince, Minister for Family and Housing Support, visited our Hackney hub to discuss tackling DSS discrimination.

19 July: Pepper Money drop DSS restrictions

Pepper Money today announced that they are removing all restrictive ‘No DSS’ terms from their Buy to Let mortgages. Once all of the big lenders changed their ways, the smaller banks have followed. ‘Restrictive mortgage terms’ should no longer be accepted as an excuse without evidence!

15 July: Melanie Onn MP calls out portals

In a piece for the Times Red Box, Melanie Onn, MP for Grimsby, has called on property portals to take responsibility and remove discriminatory adverts. The article calls for Rightmove, OpenRent and Spareroom to follow the example set by Zoopla and clean up their act.

11 June: Downing Street round table

In another campaign milestone, Housing Minister Heather Wheeler led a No.10 round table on housing benefit discrimination. Industry bodies and companies from the mortgage, insurance, lettings, landlord and property portal sectors were all in attendance. Commitments to end discrimination were reaffirmed any organisations still ignoring the issue risk being left behind.

11 June: Metro Bank win

Metro Bank are the latest lender to drop mortgage restrictions on renting to tenants receiving benefits. Every major bank has now committed to end housing benefit discrimination. Just a handful of minor lenders remain…

17 May: Normalising prejudice

Housing campaigner Philippa Lalor has blogged for Metro Online about her experience of using Open Rent to find a home. She describes how adverts which discriminate against people who receive benefits normalise prejudice and create a bad user experience.

15 May: ITV London investigate

ITV London News have investigated DSS discrimination in the capital, making mystery shopping calls to 50 letting agents. Depressingly, unlawful discrimination was rife and between them, the agents only had four properties available to tenants receiving housing benefit. One agent summed up this prejudice, describing a landlord’s approach by saying: ‘Even if you were the Pope and you were on benefits, she wouldn’t rent to you.’

27 April: Shelter vs Open Rent

Shelter’s Director of Campaigns, Greg Beales, spoke to BBC Radio 4’s Money Box about the campaign. Debating the issue with a representative from Open Rent, it highlighted the vast number of discriminatory adverts on their website, all of which are in breach of the Equality Act.

24 April: Select Committee hearing

A group of MPs sat down to hear evidence on DSS discrimination from voices across the lettings industry. This was a monumental event, and we were front and centre to witness it alongside some passionate Shelter campaigners. Watch the highlights below or see the full session here.

20 April: Victory for London Renters Union

Our allies, London Renters Union, stood up for a renter receiving benefits, who was pressured into paying £5,000 up front to rent a property. After almost a year of campaigning, they secured a full refund from the letting agent. The case is a reminder that DSS discrimination restricts choice, so can force renters into highly exploitative situations.

18 April: Tzelem blog on DSS discrimination

Rabbis from social justice group Tzelem marked Pesach by blogging about housing benefit discrimination. They ask: ‘How is it that in one of the richest countries of the world in 2019, we tolerate discriminatory practices that deny large numbers of people their own homes?’

17 April: Small moves by Rightmove

Following pressure from hundreds of campaigners, the property portal made a step in the right direction, signalling their intention to ban some ‘no DSS’ adverts from their website. However, they’ve left a loophole allowing some discriminatory advertising to continue. Read our take on the news here. In summary; we urge them to be bolder and to enforce a complete ban.

10 April: #Wrongmove

Hundreds of Shelter supporters took to social media, campaigning for Rightmove to ban discriminatory adverts on from their website.

9 April: Parliamentary question from Melanie Onn MP

Melanie highlighted in Parliament how online portals like Rightmove continue to allow adverts which discriminate against people receiving housing benefit. Heather Wheeler, Minster for Housing and Homelessness, responded by restating the Government’s intention to crack down on housing benefit discrimination.

1 April: Co-op remove restrictions

The Co-operative Bank become the latest lender to remove ‘no DSS’ restrictions from buy-to-let mortgages, applying the change to all its brands including Platform and Britannia. Co-op join NatWest, Precise Mortgages and Kensington Homes, all of which have scrapped this type of discrimination in recent weeks. Only a handful of lenders remain left to lift these restrictions…

25 March: Rightmove petition 

Our friends at 38 Degrees have launched a petition calling on Rightmove to ban ‘no DSS’ adverts. Zoopla have already proved that this is possible, so please sign the petition today!

20 March: Nationwide reminder 

Nationwide were one of the first lenders to scrap ‘no DSS’ restrictions in buy-to-let mortgages. Today they announced plans to contact landlord customers to remind them that they are free to rent to whoever they choose. It’s great to see Nationwide provide this clarity to customers. Other lenders should follow their lead.

18 March: Confusion… 

56% of mortgage brokers surveyed by the Financial Reporter were not confident in knowing which lenders would allow a client to rent to tenants who received benefits. This confusion could result in landlords turning renters receiving benefits away, in the mistaken belief that their mortgage prevents letting to them. All mortgage providers without benefit restrictions should provide absolute clarity to landlords and brokers, to avoid further misunderstandings.

15 March: Victory! 

We’re celebrating a major win today as Zoopla announced that it is banning ‘no DSS’ adverts. It’s a massive step forward, so well done to Zoopla for leading the property portal pack. Time for the rest of the industry to follow…

15 March: Successful legal challenges

In addition to public campaigning, we’ve also been helping Shelter clients who’ve experienced discrimination to legally challenge the perpetrators. Philippa Lalor successfully challenged five letting agents read about her amazing wins here.

13 March: Share your story with Rethink Mental Illness

Following on from their fantastic blog about why they’re supporting the campaign, Rethink now wants to hear from people who’ve experienced discrimination, especially those who are also living with mental illness.

12 March: Rabbis join the campaign

We’re excited that rabbis from the social justice group Tzelem have joined the fight against DSS discrimination. They frequently see the consequences of excluding renters on housing benefit, so will be raising awareness of discriminatory practices at their synagogues and beyond.

1 March: Government crackdown

Big, important news broke today, as the Government announced a crackdown on DSS discrimination. As a first step, they’ll be speaking to offenders, but also warned:

If the sector is unwilling to take action, the government will then explore all options to remove this practice

 Heather Wheeler, Minister for Housing and Homelessness, 1 March 2019

The stakes just got higher…

1 March: NatWest win!

We’re delighted with NatWest’s big announcement today, that all landlords – both old and new – can now rent to people who receive housing benefit. This is a huge step forward in the fight against DSS discrimination. This victory wouldn’t have been possible without the tireless efforts of incredible landlord, Helena McAleer. We urge all lenders that still have benefit bans to follow NatWest’s lead and scrap them without delay.

21 February: Rethink Mental Illness back us

We’re delighted that Rethink Mental Illness are joining the fight against DSS discrimination. The practice is locking some of their service users out of homes, often causing mental health to suffer as a result. Read Rethink’s blog on why they’re supporting the campaign.

20 February: Prime Minister’s support

Charles Walker MP raised DSS discrimination at Prime Minister’s Questions today. In response, the Prime Minister confirmed that the government are working with us to tackle it.

You can also support our campaign to end DSS discrimination.

18 December: NatWest submission

We made a submission to NatWest’s review of their buy-to-let mortgage policies. It’s available to read here. We’re eagerly anticipating the outcome of the review…

7 December: Treasury questions

The Treasury has responded to three written parliamentary questions from Vicky Foxcroft MP, about buy-to-let mortgage restrictions on housing benefit tenants. You can read the questions and their response here. Disappointingly, they don’t see it as their problem…

24 November: NatWest protest

Housing campaigners shut down branches of NatWest, as ACORN, Living Rent, and London Renters Union lead protests against the bank’s ban on landlords renting to people on housing benefit.

We’re outside @NatWest_Help in Stratford protesting their mortgage terms banning landlords from renting to people claiming housing benefit. Housing is bad enough already without discrimination renters on benefits face #EndDSSDiscrimination #YesDSS

— London Renters Union (@LDNRentersUnion) November 24, 2018

21 November: Spotlight on lenders

As we eagerly await an update on NatWest’s promised review of their buy-to-let mortgage policies, Shelter Policy Officer, Rhea Newman has blogged about the wider issue of lenders preventing landlords from renting to people on benefits. She makes it clear that lenders need to learn from NatWest’s mistakes, and remove any discriminatory restrictions.

20 November: Work & Pensions committee intervene

The Work & Pensions Select Committee has published correspondence with NatWest regarding their ‘no DSS’ mortgage clauses. We welcome their intervention and agree that regulation may be necessary if lenders don’t end discriminatory policies ASAP.

14 November: Letting agent excuses

Following a London MP’s investigation into DSS discrimination in her constituency, Shelter Public Affairs Officer Ami McCarthy took an in-depth look at that the consistently negative responses from letting agents who were asked to explain their housing benefit policies.

14 November: Big news from property portals

In response to Shelter and the National Housing Federation’s media story the previous week, Rightmove & Zoopla just announced that they’ve advised letting agents not to post ‘No DSS’ adverts on their websites. A great development, but will they go further and ban them outright?

8 November: 1 in 10 adverts discriminate

DSS discrimination hit the news again, with the second part of Shelter’s joint investigation with the National Housing Federation into the practice making headlines. The new research discovered that 1 in 10 adverts on the property portal, Zoopla, excluded people on benefits.

7 November: You & Yours

DSS discrimination featured on BBC Radio 4’s ‘You and Yours,’ with Helena McAleer, the landlord taking on NatWest, and Shelter’s Director of Campaigns Greg Beales joining the discussion. The issue of landlord insurance and restrictions on renting to people on housing benefit was raised, alongside the hot topic of discrimination by buy-to-let lenders.

4 November: Petition launch

To keep the pressure up, Shelter launched a petition to Bridgfords, Dexters, Haart, Hunters, Fox & Sons, Ludlow Thompson and Your Move, calling on them to treat all renters fairly, by considering each individual on a case-by-case basis. You can sign the petition here.

3 November: Second warning

Over last few weeks of October we sent a second round of letters to Bridgfords, Dexters, Haart, Hunters, Fox & Sons, and Your Move, reiterating Shelter’s asks for letting agents and offering to meet to discuss how they can stamp out DSS discrimination. Dexter’s and Hunters replies can be read here and here.

29 October: NatWest commitment

NatWest responded to Shelter’s letter, to confirm that they’ll be conducting a full review of their polices. We’ll be holding them to account for this…

25 October: Mayor’s question time

The Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, condemned DSS discrimination at Mayor’s Question Time this evening, after hearing moving personal testimony from a disabled woman who has experienced it first hand

20 October: RLA join the fray

The Residential Landlords Association (RLA) announced that they’ve written to the Treasury Minister, urging an investigation & ban of buy-to-let mortgage clauses which prevent renting to people on housing benefit. A clear sign that the campaign is building momentum across the sector.

18 October: Ludlow progress

Earlier this month, Ludlow Thompson wrote to us again. We’ve blogged about the encouraging progress they’ve taken to stop discrimination against renters receiving housing benefit, and wrote back to set out the practical steps that we’re asking all letting agents to follow to stamp it out completely. You can read Ludlow’s response here.

17 October: Writing to Natwest

In response to Helena’s case, we’ve written to Natwest, asking for a full clarification on their buy-to-let mortgage terms.

15 October: Landlord’s petition launches

Landlord Helena McAleer, has launched a petition calling on the government to stop banks discriminating against tenants on benefits. She was driven to do this after a shocking incident involving her buy-to-let mortgage provider, Natwest. who told Helena to evict her current tenant or face an expensive charge – because her tenant receives benefits. Helena’s worked hard to get her story in the papers and her campaign has been widely shared online. You can sign her petition here.

11 October: The devestating impact of DSS discrimination

Stanley Harvey, Senior Advisor in Shelter services, blogs about the damage caused by discriminatory policies. It’s a powerful reminder of why this campaign is so important.

15 September: Manchester protest

Manchester Tenant’s Union, and a coalition of other local groups, held a protest today outside a branch of Bridgfords in Manchester City Centre. The branch manager agreed to raise their concerns with head office.

12 September: Phone calls

Since Ludlow Thompson’s head office didn’t respond to 1000s of phone calls and tweets, Shelter supporters began hitting the phones to call individual branches of Ludlow Thompson directly. Branch staff are being asked to pass on Shelter’s call to stamp out discriminatory practices.

11 September: Some friendly legal advice…

To clear up confusion about DSS discrimination and the law, Shelter Policy Officer, Rhea Newman, & Shelter Solicitor Rose Arnall, published some advice for letting agents and landlords on avoiding discrimination.

23 August: The blame game begins

The blame game got well and truly underway, as letting agents, landlords and buy-to-let mortgage lenders all attempt to shift the blame on each other.

According to the Association of Residential Letting Agents (ARLA):

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.

And here’s a snapshot of the comments online:

22nd August: Media splash and agents respond

Shelter published the full results of a joint investigation with the National Housing Federation into housing benefit discrimination. Most of the broadcast and print have media covered the story, social media’s exploded. Amongst the coverage landlord bodies agreed that blanket bans on people who receive housing benefit are wrong.

Responses from letting agents have varied; there’s been an encouraging response from Haart who outlined the immediate action they’d taken, and a strongly defensive denial from Your Move, which we don’t have permission to publish…

21 August: Writing to the other offenders

We’ve written to the other agents that we mystery shopped, to outline the results of the investigation. Bridgford’s, Dexter’s, Haart, Hunters, Fox & Sons and Your Move all received letters.

19 August: Taking to the streets

Shelter staff met outside the Finsbury Park branch of Ludlow Thompson this morning, to hand in  a letter about housing benefit discrimination to the branch manager. Cue hurried phone calls to head office…

DSS campaigners standing outside Ludlow Thompson

17 August 2018: Ludlow respond and campaign begins

Ludlow have written back, expressing surprise at the findings and denying that they discriminate against renters who receive housing benefit. We’ve responded with the full results of the investigation, and asked them to commit to some actions to prevent people on benefits from being turned away again.

The campaign launched publicly today and Shelter supporters have begun to email and Tweet Ludlow’s head office on mass.

16 August 2018: Writing to Ludlow Thompson

Prior to the launch of Shelter’s new campaign, we’ve written to Ludlow Thompson, to inform them that the investigation showed that 9 out of 10 branches appeared to have a ban against renters on housing benefit.