Earlier this week, the BBC published an investigation showing that housing benefit discrimination continues to be rife within the private rented sector, with OpenRent coming out on top.
The BBC’s investigation makes clear that too many letting agents are facilitating unlawful discrimination within their businesses. Online letting agent OpenRent was named as the worst offender.
On OpenRent’s platform, discrimination is widespread
Discrimination against renters who receive housing benefit is so widespread on OpenRent’s platform that of a total of 11,534 adverts we analysed in November, only 16% accepted housing benefit recipients.
We also found that the levels of housing benefit discrimination on OpenRent were significantly higher than their competitor’s websites, including Zoopla, Rightmove and Countrywide.
Landlords are given unclear advice
It’s unsurprising how high OpenRent’s levels of housing benefit discrimination are, considering the unclear advice the landlords using their platform receive.
OpenRent says: “It is up to a landlord to decide whom they let their property to. We would encourage all landlords to consider each application on its individual merits”.
So, while OpenRent isn’t advising landlords not to rent to people who receive housing benefit, they still give them the option to do so. This is where the problem lies: in failing to tell their landlords that discriminating against housing benefit tenants is unlawful, OpenRent is facilitating unlawful discrimination.
Community forum, or breeding ground for discrimination?
OpenRent host a community forum on their site where landlords speak openly about discriminating against tenants receiving housing benefit.
They advise each other never to accept any tenants ‘on benefits’, stating they’re ‘bad tenants’ who will cause damage to the property and not pay rent. They also offer ‘tips’ on the best ways to get away with discriminating.
OpenRent very rarely challenge or moderate these comments, making the forum a breeding ground for discrimination.
Immoral, unlawful behaviour
DSS discrimination is immoral. It has a direct and devastating impact on the lives of renters, causing huge stress and anxiety. Because it makes it so much harder to move house, people are forced to stay in unsuitable accommodation which ultimately, can make them homeless.
This discrimination is also unlawful. This year Shelter fought and won two legal cases which proved beyond doubt that housing benefit discrimination is against the law. But OpenRent has not caught up.
No more excuses
OpenRent gives several reasons for their reluctance to remove ‘no DSS’ adverts from their site.
They say that landlords have mortgage and insurance restrictions that prevent them from letting to people in receipt of benefits – but we know that these old excuses don’t wash.
They also argue that tenants receiving housing benefit find the ‘no DSS’ option helpful, because they allow people to filter out the properties that aren’t available to them.
But our research shows that, rather than renters receiving benefits being able to see which properties they will or won’t be discriminated against if they apply for, they’d much rather not be discriminated against at all.
Change is urgently needed
In February 2020, Shelter, along with a group of renters receiving housing benefit, wrote to OpenRent asking them to end DSS discrimination on their site. To date, we have still received no response.
So now, we are calling on them once again to remove their unlawful and discriminatory ‘DSS not accepted’ adverts.
We’re asking OpenRent to:
- Remove the ‘DSS not accepted’ option from their listings
- Inform landlords of their legal duty not to discriminate
You can help us put an end to OpenRent’s unlawful discrimination against renters on housing benefit.
Send an email to OpenRent’s head office, telling them to end ‘no DSS’ discrimination on their site.
We analysed 11,534 adverts in November 2020 across London, Birmingham, Manchester and York.
 69% of all private renters and 85% of those claiming HB agreed that this [no DSS policies] should end, YouGov survey of 3995 private renters in England (828 currently claiming HB), online, weighted, 18+, Aug-Sept 2019