Too many renters receiving housing benefit face discrimination when looking for a home. These so-called ‘No DSS’ policies are unfairly locking hundreds of thousands of people out of homes they could otherwise afford, often pushing them closer to homelessness.
Anna Devivo is an Intern with Young Women’s Trust and in this guest blog she shares her experience of DSS discrimination and what she thinks needs to happen to end it for good.
When I became pregnant, me and partner were thrown in at the deep end. We were starting a family and needed to find a place to call home. We had no savings or stable home of our own and so we found it very hard to find a place. Luckily enough my mum agreed that we could stay with her until we found our feet. However, we knew we had to find a house for when the baby arrived. Unfortunately, six months into my pregnancy my partner lost his job and our hopes to save and find a place plummeted.
It was then down to me to find a house. After applying for Universal Credit I found out that I was entitled to Housing Benefit which I was glad to hear. I asked how it worked and was told that once I found a place to rent, I’d pay the deposit and sign the contract. Then once I presented Universal Credit with the contract, I’d be able to start receiving Housing Benefit. I did wonder how I would persuade a landlord to let me sign a contract before being able to provide definite proof of my entitlement to Housing Benefit, but started to search for flats in my price range.
It quickly became apparent that every flat I was able to afford specifically mentioned that they wouldn’t accept ‘DSS tenants’ or children. This really saddened me as I felt that the help I was being given was irrelevant if I couldn’t find somewhere that would accept my situation.
I continued to search for months in the hope of finding a place through an agency but was constantly told that it was well within private landlords’ rights to not allow people on DSS to rent as they were too ‘unreliable’ and ‘untidy’. I was utterly ashamed – why was I being stigmatised for getting some support through Housing Benefit and being labelled things that were not true? There was nowhere to go for help and my baby’s due date was fast approaching.
In the end I’ve had to find an unconventional housing solution. I’m currently house sitting for a woman who has moved abroad, so although I’m comfortable for now it’s pretty unstable; as soon as she wants to return, my baby and I will be homeless again – possibly without any warning.
I believe there needs to be a dramatic system change within housing, and one good place to start is by banning DDS discrimination. This is why I’m so happy to support Shelter’s campaign. Everyone deserves a place to call home, no matter what their situation is.
How you can help
Thousands of families like Anna’s are still facing DSS discrimination and are being prevented from renting privately. We must end this discrimination for good to make sure that everyone can access the housing that they need.
One of the worst offenders of this DSS Discrimination is OpenRent. As one of the largest online letting agents in the UK, they are preventing thousands of tenants from renting the properties available on their website – homes they could otherwise afford – simply because they receive housing benefit.
Shelter, along with tenants affected by DSS discrimination, are calling on OpenRent to end DSS discrimination on their website. Will you join us in telling OpenRent that we all deserve access to safe, affordable homes? Please read, sign, and share our open letter.
More about Anna
Anna works at Young Women’s Trust as a Services and Participation Intern. This internship is paid and is ring-fenced specifically for young women and supported by the Jack Petchey Foundation, including access to training.
Anna works to support young women across the UK through Young Women’s Trust Services and Participation work. She recently spoke at the Young Women’s Trust housing event, including researching and sharing housing solutions for young women.
Outside Young Women’s Trust, Anna is active in her community and set up a group for Spanish mums and children in Croydon (Madres de Croydon).