More significant progress in Shelter’s fight against housing benefit discrimination this week, as Rightmove signalled their intention to ban all ‘No DSS’ adverts from their website. At least that’s what the headlines say…
Look beyond them and it’s clear that Rightmove still have work to do to end DSS discrimination for good. We commend them for acting, but under their proposed approach, letting agents will still be free to post discriminatory adverts in breach of equality law.
What are Rightmove planning?
In a letter, Rightmove has told its letting agent customers to stop using the term ‘No DSS’ in their adverts by the end of April. And from May, they’ll be introducing technology to automatically detect and remove these terms. Rightmove also state that “agents should not impose blanket bans on tenants on housing benefit.” So far, so good – but there’s a catch.
Rightmove will continue to allow adverts that deter renters receiving benefits, and they say: “a landlord has a restriction that prevents them from letting to a person receiving benefits, the reason for the restriction should be included in the description of the listing.” They then go on to cite the landlord’s mortgage terms as an example of a legitimate restriction, providing this example of acceptable language to use in an ad: “Unfortunately no housing benefit claimants can be considered due to a restriction in the landlord’s mortgage term.”
So discriminatory advertising will be allowed to continue, albeit it a different form.
Why are Rightmove leaving a loophole?
Rightmove refer to guidance for lettings professionals issued by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) in 2014. This says that all ‘material information’ about a property should be included in an advertisement. They provide examples of material information, including “any restrictions on the type of tenant (such as housing benefit claimants).”
So Rightmove argue that letting agents must include information in adverts about any housing benefit restrictions, to comply with the law.
This isn’t anything new. Since 38 Degrees and Shelter supporters began challenging Rightmove, they’ve repeatedly defended their stance with this guidance.
Why is this the Wrongmove?
We don’t agree with Rightmove’s position. In fact, it could be giving letting agents and landlords a false belief that it’s sometimes acceptable to discriminate against renters receiving benefits. But it never is.
As we’ve explained on this blog before, DSS discrimination is unlawful and immoral. Women and disabled people disproportionally receive housing benefit, so ‘No DSS’ practices indirectly discriminate against these groups, breaching the Equality Act 2010. Successful legal challenges have been brought on this basis.
Equality law trumps CMA ‘guidance’ (which is just that). In other words, the guidance cannot be used to justify a breach of the Equality Act.
Rightmove correctly refer to the fact that some landlords have a buy-to-let mortgage with restrictions on letting to housing benefit tenants. However, we believe that such mortgage terms are unenforceable, as they’d likely breach the Equality Act too. So, mortgages cannot be used to dodge legal responsibilities set out by the Equality Act either.
The number of landlords with mortgage restrictions is rapidly dwindling anyway. Rightmove’s letter references both NatWest and The Co-Operative Bank – lenders who have recently dropped prohibitive terms and conditions. Others, such as Precise Mortgages, Kensington Homes and Cambridge Building Society, have done this too, leaving just a handful of lenders with restrictions remaining.
Put simply, Rightmove risk overcomplicating what should be a very simple act – ban all adverts which exclude renters receiving housing benefit, with no exceptions. Only then will they truly stop facilitating unlawful discrimination, and stop putting their customers at risk from a legal challenge.
It’s great to see Rightmove taking these steps. If they are genuinely committed to stamping out discriminatory advertising, then we urge them to be bolder, and enforce a complete ban. Zoopla have proved that it’s possible.
But if Rightmove are just delaying the inevitable, then it’s another wrongmove. The Government has announced a crackdown on DSS discrimination, and the Work and Pensions Select Committee are investigating it, so widespread change is coming. Everyone should commit to treating all renters fairly by assessing everyone on a case-by-case basis.
Let’s keep the public pressure up. Tweet Rightmove here.
Or if you have Facebook, why not leave a comment on one of their posts? Here’s a message you can copy and paste – feel free to personalise it:
Good progress, but you will still allow adverts on your website that discriminate against people receiving housing benefit. When will you ban them all? Without exception.