Renters facing income discrimination are locked out and let down. It’s time for government to take action.

Renters facing income discrimination are locked out and let down. It’s time for government to take action.

Right now, hundreds of thousands of renters receiving benefits are facing income discrimination when looking for a home. No one should be turned away from a suitable home just because they receive income from the state. We want those with the power to act to show that this will no longer be tolerated.

What is income discrimination?

Income discrimination, or so-called ‘No DSS’ policies, are blanket bans by letting agents and landlords against people who receive benefits. We’ve proved that these practices are unlawful because they indirectly discriminate against women, disabled people, and Black and Bangladeshi households, who are more likely to receive housing benefits.

Still, rogue landlords and lettings agents continue to flout the law with ads like ‘professionals only’ and intolerable demands, such as up to a year’s worth of rent in advance, which aren’t placed on people who don’t receive benefits.

There are now nearly two million private renters relying on housing benefits. Income discrimination puts them at risk of being locked out of safe and decent homes.

With the cost of living crisis casting a shadow over an increasingly unaffordable private renting sector, the last thing anyone wants is to be barred from a home they know they can afford just because they receive benefits. It’s draining, it’s humiliating and it pushes people into homelessness.

Local authorities need to tackle income discrimination in their area

Local authorities have ways of tackling rogue landlords; they must crack down on the letting agents and landlords who continue to flout the law.

Councils should:

  • amend licensing schemes to include conditions that prohibit landlords from discriminating. Existing landlord accreditation schemes should be amended to include anti-discriminatory clauses and mandatory training
  • proactively inform and educate landlords on the law and their responsibilities. This can take place through training, well-placed communication, and landlord forums
  • work with tenants to understand how to recognise and challenge income discrimination and support tenants when looking for a home
  • ensure that there are enough trained housing officers and Tenancy Relations Officers to support tenants

It’s in the interest of local authorities to act now. Income discrimination reduces renters’ choice, increases their risk of staying in unsuitable homes or becoming homeless, and puts pressure on local authorities who then experience increased demand for constrained social housing.

Some councils are leading the way. In 2021, Oxford City Council passed a motion to eliminate DSS discrimination from the city. They’ve now updated their landlord accreditation scheme to include a clause that prohibits discrimination, including against people who receive benefits. In 2022 Bristol City Council also committed to a crackdown on benefits discrimination after tireless campaigning by the Fair Renting Campaign.

It’s time for other councils to follow suit. But there’s only so much they can do on their own. That’s why we need national government to step up.

Ultimately, we need national government to bring forward regulation to stamp out income discrimination

In the long run, we won’t see systemic change without government regulation.  

Government already promised to professionalise letting agents back in 2019. That same year, the Regulation of Property Agents Working Group (RoPA) released a set of recommendations to government on what a regulatory framework for property agents should look like, including a code of practice that letting agents would follow. Since that report was published, government has failed to act. Meanwhile, renters on benefits continue to be discriminated against by some letting agents who flout the law.

It’s time government brings forward a legally enforceable code of practice that all letting agents must abide by and that outlines their responsibility not to discriminate against people based on their economic situation.

A code of practice will finally professionalise the sector and establish minimum standards that letting agents must follow to ensure that they provide a good and fair service to all tenants and landlords. Clear rules will also help tenants know what to expect from letting agents and allow tenants to challenge them confidently.

Finally, we want government to ensure that local authorities have enough resources to crack down on income discrimination. A decade of austerity measures and cuts have reduced the amount that councils can spend on enforcement in the private renting sector.

The courts were clear: income discrimination is unlawful. Now we need action from local and national government to end this practice once and for all.

Find out more about our campaign and join us in ending incoming discrimination once and for all.