Shelter services – our view on benefit discrimination

Published: by Stanley Harvey

At Shelter, we know how hard it can be for people to find somewhere safe and suitable to live. For many, the security and affordability of social housing is an impossible dream, never mind the fantasy of owning their own home.

While families sit on waiting lists up and down the country, they, and millions of others, face the harsh reality of private renting. The eye-watering cost is not even the first hurdle. The majority of low-income renters will have trouble even getting their foot in the door for one reason: they claim benefits.

It is estimated that close to 2 million households in the UK use housing benefit to meet the cost of private rented accommodation.

However, according to our 2017 landlord survey, close to half (43%) ban renters on benefit, even when they can afford the rent and have immaculate records as renters. We work with people in this situation every day.

‘Soul Destroying’

Last week, one Shelter client told me that trying to find a place to live on a low income is ‘soul destroying.’ A year ago, she was served with an eviction notice. Desperate to find somewhere else to live, she started looking for a property in the London borough in which she was born and raised, close to her family and support networks.

‘Sorry, No DSS’ she was told, time and time again, by successive high street letting agents. She trawled the internet for hours on end looking for landlords that might accept her.

After viewing several properties with one letting agent, she informed him that she was eligible for housing benefit that would more than meet the cost of the rent and that she was ready to make an offer.

He replied with a one-line email – ‘I wish you told us you were on benefits,’ before cutting communication entirely. Facing homelessness, she eventually accepted an undersized property in Kent, far from her family, her friends and her children’s school.

Her three sons shared a bedroom and she felt hopeless about her future. We stepped in to help her end that tenancy and secure more appropriate accommodation but the experience left an indelible mark on her.

Because the supply of properties available is so limited renters are much less likely to rock the boat with their landlord, meaning that many tolerate poor conditions and treatment in order to avoid homelessness. Nobody wants to face the reality of re-living the stress and anxiety of finding somewhere else to live.

The system must change

Why not have a go yourself? Go onto your favourite website for rented properties and put in the area you’re living now. Make sure you tag your search with ‘accepts DSS’ and see for yourself how narrow the choice is.

This is a sharp edge of the housing crisis. The situation is rigged against low income families and is bad for communities, disruptive for children and has a huge impact on wellbeing.

Renters deserve a genuine choice on where to live and need a decent, safe and affordable place to call home. The system is currently denying them that right. It must change.