A version of this blog was published on Huffington Post UK.
Guest blog by Philippa Lalor, a Shelter supporter and client
Almost one in three renters receiving housing benefit haven’t been able to apply for a place to live because of discriminatory ‘no DSS’ practices.
These range from a total ban on renting to people on benefits, to simply advertising a vast number of properties as ‘no DSS’.
As part of our campaign against DSS discrimination, Philippa successfully challenged discrimination from letting agents who turned her away. This led to a range of changes including removing ‘no DSS’ from their adverts and retraining staff. Her story is below.
I’m a good tenant
For the last five years, I’ve received housing benefit, and for the last five years I’ve continued to pay my rent in full and on time.
I live with a disability which leaves me seriously ill and hospitalised for periods of time – this is why I need housing benefit. But I have a guarantor, a landlord reference and photographs of my previous home in good condition when I left it.
I’ve even managed to save up an emergency fund, to make sure I’ve always got a safety net in a worst-case scenario.
For all intents and purposes, I’m a good tenant.
However, none of this matters when you receive housing benefit and want to rent from many landlords and letting agents up and down the country.
Discriminated against for being on benefits
Last year, I was looking to move to a new house, and began searching online for an affordable place.
Yet despite finding numerous properties within my budget, it was made painfully clear by the many ‘no DSS’ signs that I would not be considered solely because I received housing benefit.
After a while, I’d seen so many signs, and been rejected so many times, I stopped bothering to apply to any properties marked with ‘no DSS’, as I knew what the outcome would be.
I couldn’t believe that in this day and age, people could get away with such blatant discrimination.
I contacted Shelter for advice
I contacted Shelter for advice on the matter and they agreed that the practice was wrong. They helped me write formal letters to five letting agents, asking them to stop discriminating against people on housing benefit, and to start considering people on a case-by-case basis.
If they didn’t listen to me, and cease this practice, I was prepared to take them all the way to court – and win!
I felt confident we would win as letting agents and landlords who discriminate against housing benefit recipients are indirectly breaching the Equality Act – as women and disabled people are more likely to receive housing benefit. Sticking a ‘no DSS’ sign up in the window is similar to saying ‘no disabled people’ and ‘no single mums’.
It was a great outcome
The five letting agents I contacted responded – and they agreed to stop discriminating against people receiving housing benefit before the matter reached court!
The letting agents agreed that from now on, they would now consider all applications on a case by case basis. They knew we were right! And could have been made to pay significant compensation if found guilty in court.
For one of the letting agents, Martin & Co. this requires them to change the practice in 185 franchises, which makes a massive difference! Others agreed to finalise the implementation of a website filter for new advertisements – instructing their software supplier to remove the ‘no DSS’ option.
Four of the letting agents went even further to state categorically that they would remove any reference to no DSS or similar phrases from adverts on their site.
I knew we were on the right side of the law
I’m over the moon that my challenge to the letting agents went so well. I know I’ve helped make a difference to millions of people across the country.
I knew we were on the right side of the law after seeing Rosie Keogh’s story. She won compensation when a lettings agency refused to consider her as a tenant because she received housing benefit.
I hope my story can also sound as a warning bell to other letting agents and landlords who discriminate.
Let’s make sure no one faces discrimination
Discriminating against someone for receiving benefits is immoral, wrong and can be unlawful; anyone carrying out this practice will be continuously challenged on it.
We are not simply ‘housing benefit tenants’. We are individual human beings, who have been labelled and prejudged. Help me bring an end to this prejudice.
If you’ve faced discrimination like me, contact Shelter, and they might be able to help you to challenge it too.
Thank you for reading my story.
You can add your voice to Shelter’s campaign to make sure no one experiences what I went through. 25,000 people have already signed up, and together we’re making enough noise to make the difference. Add your voice to the campaign today.
Philippa Lalor is a Shelter supporter and client who has been fighting to end discrimination against people on housing benefits when they try and rent a home. Her work has resulted in a range of changes including addressing this discrimination in advertisements, and retraining of staff.