Thousands of landlords and lettings agents across the country could be flouting equality laws by rejecting housing benefit claimants, according to new research by the National Housing Federation and Shelter.
The study found that one in five letting agents in England, some of which are acting on their landlord clients instructions, are potentially breaking the law with ‘No DSS’ adverts that discriminate against people on housing benefit, as this could violate the 2010 Equality Act.
Approximately 86,000 letting agent adverts on Zoopla from 8,785 different letting agent branches in England were analysed, with 1,757 (20%) featuring some kind of advert discriminating against people on housing benefit.
Kate Henderson, chief executive of the National Housing Federation, told the press: “It is shameful that a fifth of letting agent branches are doing something potentially unlawful by openly discriminating against people on housing benefit.
“It’s likely that many more letting agents are discriminating too, but our research today shines a light on those who are willing to do so in a really brazen manner online.”
She added: “We’ve revealed that these outdated practices are not only pushing people, mainly women, in to homelessness, but that they are probably unlawful. There’s no excuse any more. Everyone must do the right thing, morally and legally, and stop discriminating.”
Earlier this year, single mother Rosie Keogh won compensation for sex discrimination from a letting agency that refused to consider her as a tenant for a property in the Kings Heath area of Birmingham after she revealed that at least part of her rental payment would come via benefits.
Keogh, a cleaner and former paralegal, successfully argued that blanket bans on benefit claimants indirectly discriminated against women, especially single women, as they are proportionately more likely to be claiming housing benefit than single men.
She had been living in the same property for 11 years with the rent being paid in full every time.
After a letter of complaint was dismissed by the agents, the mother of one issued a claim for discrimination in the county court.
“I felt something had to be done to challenge it. I was motivated by anger at such inequitable practice,” she said.
“It made me feel like a second-class citizen.
“You are being treated differently – and it’s women and women with children who are bearing the brunt of this because they need to work part-time.”
A survey of 1,137 private landlords for housing charity Shelter last year found that 43% had an outright ban on letting to such claimants. A further 18% preferred not to let to them.
Keogh was supported in her case by Shelter, whose legal officer, Rose Arnall, commented: “By applying a blanket policy they are actually preventing good tenants from accessing the private rented sector.
“Women are more likely to be caring for children and therefore working part-time and are therefore more likely to top up their income by claiming housing benefit.”