‘Morally bankrupt’ landlords and letting agents failing the vulnerable, says Shelter

An investigation by Shelter and the National Housing Federation has revealed that that five out of six major letting agents have an outright ban on renters on housing benefit in at least one of their branches.

They commissioned Mystery Shopper LTD to perform an undercover study which has exposed discriminatory practices towards renters on housing benefit.

In total, calls were made to 149 branches, split evenly between the six letting agents. The mystery shopper posed as someone who was working, but received a top-up from housing benefit to cover the rent, and noted the responses they received from each branch.

They found that five out of six of the letting agent called (Bridgfords, Dexters, Fox & Sons, Haart & Your Move) have an outright ban on renters on housing benefit in at least one of their branches. Overall, an alarming one in ten branches called had a policy banning renters on housing benefit.

In addition, their analysis revealed that in total almost half (48%) of all branches called had no properties available for people on housing benefit.

A recent survey of almost 4,000 private renters by YouGov found that almost a third of people receiving housing benefit said they hadn’t been able to rent a home due to a ‘No DSS’ policy in the last five years.

The Equality Act 2010 protects people from discrimination across a number of areas, including at work, in education and importantly, when buying or renting a property.

Estate agents were quoted in the report saying:  ‘Once I mentioned housing benefit she was abrupt and wanted to end the call. She was very dismissive and unhelpful.’

‘Their tone of voice changed to unfriendly as soon as I mentioned housing benefit and they did not treat me with respect or dignity.’

‘I felt like I was a second-class citizen and that he wanted to get off the phone to me as soon as he could.’

Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, said: ‘Rejecting all housing benefit tenants is morally bankrupt, and because these practices overwhelmingly impact women and disabled people, they could be unlawful.

‘That’s why we’re urging all landlords and letting agents to get rid of housing benefit bans, and treat people fairly on a case-by-case basis.’

Responding to the report, David Cox, chief executive of ARLA Propertymark, said: ‘Rents are paid in advance, whereas housing benefit is paid in arrears, and therefore with such a shortage of rental accommodation, landlords and agents will naturally choose a tenant who can pay the rent when it is due, rather than a tenant who is always a month in arrears.’

Read more here.



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