August 2018 marked the launch of our DSS discrimination campaign. It’s an issue we were repeatedly seeing highlighted as one of the most consistent and pernicious problems our clients were encountering.
Our advisers spend hours every week desperately searching for properties within our clients’ price-range, only to then have the options reduced further or eliminated completely by ‘no DSS’ policies. Seeing this clause on adverts for privately rented properties means that if you receive some or all of your income through benefits, don’t even apply.
We kicked off the campaign by asking landlords why this discrimination exists. Some of the most common responses included mortgage restrictions, insurance terms and advice from lettings agents. This gave us a place to start – and we’ve spent the past year investigating and changing the industry to unlock these barriers and end DSS discrimination.
This year, we’ve seen huge wins on this from across the banking sector. From big name lenders such as NatWest and The Co-op to smaller lenders like Kensington Mortgages and Pepper Money, the banks have really stepped up and played their part.
These banks have not just removed restrictions from their Buy-to-Let mortgages going forward, but also retrospectively to all existing mortgages. 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.
Lloyd Cochrane, Head of Mortgages at NatWest, said:
‘We take great pride in the contribution we make to UK home buying and building and in supporting landlords to provide high-quality housing to their tenants. By extending our existing Buy To Let mortgage policy to all landlords, and removing outdated restrictions for renting to benefits recipients, we were proud to do the right thing for our landlord customers and their tenants. Today all our Buy to Let mortgage customers – across all our UK brands – are able to provide good quality rented accommodation to tenants.
‘We are grateful that Shelter supported our review and along with others, made sure we understood the challenges both renters and landlords face, as well as helping us to address those concerns. We are also very pleased to have played a small role in helping Shelter to advocate for change across the wider industry.‘
We now know of only two small lenders which still have these restrictions. I won’t list them here – I’m sure you haven’t heard of them!
So there we have it, a monumental win.
Insurance is a product and there are many kinds, but it’s up to you to choose the policy you would like to buy. If you were to either intentionally or accidentally buy the wrong product, that would not absolve you of your duties under the Equality Act. In a legal challenge, the excuse of having the incorrect insurance would not be taken seriously.
For example, if I’m going on holiday to the USA, and I buy a travel insurance policy which does not include cover there, that doesn’t mean I cannot go. It means I have bought the wrong product. That’s my fault.
We’ve been working directly with the insurance industry, who have assured us that there are a whole range of insurance policies readily available and at a reasonable cost, to cover letting to a tenant who receives benefits.
The British Insurance Brokers’ Association (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. Therefore finding the right insurance is up to the landlord as it is readily available and affordable through BIBA’s free Find a Broker service.
These insurance policies will cover any late or non-payment of rent, as well as the standard buildings and contents protections. The insurance would cover any costs – there are no financial risks to the landlord.
Success again! Insurance is not a barrier to fairer renting either.
We’ve worked hard on the property portals. As what is often the first port of call for someone desperately trying to find somewhere to live, the internet can be a hotbed of discrimination.
After feeling the weight of your support behind our campaign and reviewing their service, Zoopla announced back in March that they were removing ‘no DSS’ and all its derivatives from their site. This was a huge win!
To affect a culture change, everyone must play their part. Zoopla really understood both the damage and the offense being caused by ‘no DSS’ on their site and took ownership of the situation to push back on their customers to treat all renters fairly.
Rightmove followed with a move of their own in April. Not going as far as Zoopla, they agreed to block all reference of ‘no DSS’ and any blanket bans. But Rightmove decided to leave in a loophole allowing landlords to discriminate if they have mortgage restrictions, but as we know, these are quickly dwindling to zero.
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.
But this is still a win – now you can search for any property you can afford without fear of discrimination.
We also took the campaign to Parliament! In February, the Prime Minister responded to a Prime Minister’s Question (PMQ) on the topic and as a result, the government is working with us to tackle DSS discrimination.
In March, Housing Minister Heather Wheeler announced: ‘If the sector is unwilling to take action, the government will then explore all options to remove this practice.’
The following month saw the cross-party Work and Pensions Select Committee hold an inquiry into DSS discrimination. Now we’re eagerly awaiting the resulting report, which will set recommendations for government. In July, Will Quince, the DWP Minister for Housing, reaffirmed the Government’s support for formally ending DSS discrimination.
We will continue to work closely with the government to do all we can to end this practice, which we believe is already unlawful.
Agents and Landlords
So here we are, a year after we started our campaign to end DSS discrimination. We’ve explored the excuses, we’ve changed the industry, we’ve broken down the structural barriers. Now it’s time to turn the focus back to lettings agents and landlords.
We aren’t telling landlords or agents that they have to rent to anyone – we’re simply saying that they must treat all prospective tenants on a case-by-case basis as individuals, and without prejudice.
There are no excuses anymore. There is no justification for this discrimination.