A BBC investigation has shown that housing benefit discrimination continues to be rife within the private rented sector.
The BBC have found that leading UK property websites are hosting tens of thousands of rental listings that exclude renters receiving benefits.
So-called ‘No DSS’ policies unfairly lock hundreds of thousands of people out of homes they could otherwise afford, just because they receive benefits. Shelter has long been campaigning to end the practice.
We know that DSS discrimination has a devastating impact on renters. It causes huge stress and anxiety, leads to people staying in unsuitable accommodation because they can’t move – and ultimately, it can make people homeless.
Nearly two million private renters say that since they started renting, they have been denied the home they wanted because the advert said ‘No DSS’. But due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the situation has only got worse, with hundreds of thousands of renters now relying on benefits to help pay their rent as a result.
Landmark court rulings have proven that DSS discrimination is unlawful
Earlier this year, Shelter fought and won two legal cases which proved beyond doubt that housing benefit discrimination is unlawful.
This marked a huge breakthrough in our campaign. It was the first time that a UK court had fully considered a DSS discrimination case and confirmed that the practice is unlawful under the Equality Act.
These landmark victories were the first nail in the coffin for ‘No DSS’.
The lettings industry has not caught up
But as this BBC investigation shows, the lettings industry has not yet caught up. Many landlords and letting agents are yet to heed the warning, and still think they can get away with baseless and blatant discrimination.
The majority of adverts on SpareRoom and OpenRent say people on benefits will not be considered as tenants, the BBC has found.
Some letting agents have moved slower than others when it comes to acting within the law. The practice is particularly widespread on SpareRoom and OpenRent. More than 80% of the 59,000 listings that the BBC analysed on these websites were not open to benefits claimants.
This is significantly higher than the proportion of ‘No DSS’ listings found on Zoopla and Rightmove.
But one thing is clear: this is an industry-wide problem.
Since we first shared the news of the first ruling in July, hundreds of people have contacted us with similar stories.
And today’s BBC investigation is further evidence that too many renters continue to be on the receiving end of housing benefit discrimination and too many letting agents and private landlords are ignoring the law.
Agents are choosing to behave in this way, because they think they can get away with it.
The old excuses don’t wash
The excuse that buy-to-let mortgages or insurance policies prevent landlords from renting to housing benefit tenants doesn’t wash either.
Thanks to Shelter’s campaign, all major lenders have now removed their ‘No DSS’ clauses, including from historic contracts, meaning that almost all buy-to-let mortgages are now ‘No DSS’-free. And insurance policies that cover landlords who rent to housing benefit tenants are easily available.
We’ve unpacked the common questions and comments we hear from agents and landlords about barriers they face in letting to tenants who receive benefits in more detail in this blog.
Now is the time to do better
There is no excuse for DSS discrimination, and it must stop.
Landlords and letting agents must sit up and pay attention to these rulings, and make sure they are acting within the law.
They must treat all renters equally and decide their suitability based on whether they can afford the rent, not where their income comes from.
Letting agents must:
- End all bans against people receiving housing benefit renting properties, and stop using phrases like ‘no DSS’, ‘no benefits’ and ‘professional tenants only’.
- Stop advising landlords not to let to people receiving housing benefit
- Provide training to staff on ending discrimination
- Stop using affordability assessments that don’t include housing benefit as a source of income
Shelter will carry on fighting until discriminatory practices are stamped out for good. To join the fight, sign up here, or find out how to challenge DSS discrimination if you’re experiencing it yourself.
 Established mortgage brokers Mortgages for Business have researched the market and tell us that they believe over 99% of the buy-to-let mortgage market is now ‘No-DSS’-free, making it highly unlikely for a landlord to have a restrictive mortgage clause.
 The British Insurance Broker’s Association (BIBA) runs a free ‘find insurance’ service to help landlords find affordable and suitable insurance product which covers letting to tenants receiving benefits.