Estate agents benefits ban ‘discrimination’

Housing charity Shelter has run a campaign to end discrimination against housing benefit recipients
Housing charity Shelter has run a campaign to end discrimination against housing benefit recipients

Data shows Enfield borough estate agents to be among most discriminatory in London, reports Jessie Mathewson, Local Democracy Reporter, and James Cracknell

Enfield estate agents are among the worst in London for discriminating against tenants on benefits, new analysis has revealed.

The BBC Shared Data Unit found that 94% of properties advertised for rent in the borough were being billed as ‘no DSS’ – an outdated acronym referring to the defunct Department for Social Security that is still commonly used as shorthand by estate agents to ban tenants on income support.

In the analysis of properties advertised via the OpenRent website, only three other London boroughs – Kingston (0%), Greenwich (3%), and Croydon (3%) – were found to have a smaller proportion of rental homes available for let by people receiving income support, such as Universal Credit or housing benefit. Across London as a whole, the figure was 14%.

Most major rental websites no longer allow landlords to state a preference on benefits status – but on OpenRent, properties are listed with the tag ‘DSS income accepted’.

In July, a judge at York County Court ruled that blanket ‘No DSS’ rental bans by lettings agents were unlawful and discriminatory. A second case held at Birmingham County Court last month, supported by housing charity Shelter, ruled that an estate agent had breached the Equality Act by refusing to let a property to a disabled dad.

Because the judgements were from lower level courts, they are not binding on other cases, but campaigners say it sends a clear signal. Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, said: “Shelter has been fighting ‘No DSS’ discrimination for the past two years because we know it pushes people to the brink of homelessness and leaves many feeling worthless.

“This win proves yet again that blanket bans against people on housing benefit are unlawful because they overwhelmingly bar women and disabled people, who are more likely to need help with their rent, from finding a safe home.

“It’s senseless that people who can afford private rents are being forced into homelessness by blind prejudice. It’s now time for landlords and letting agents to do better.”

The BBC Shared Data Unit also found that only 58% of Enfield rental properties were being advertised as “student friendly”, compared to 74% across London.

OpenRent founder Adam Hyslop says housing access is “a real and painful problem” for many renters on benefits, but that many landlords have clauses in their mortgages that prevent them from renting to benefits claimants. He said: “Hiding conditions of renting over which the landlord has no discretion only wastes time for all involved.

“To characterise us as somehow hostile to benefit claimants – or worse, lumping us in with agents who have a blanket ban on benefit claimants – is simply unfair and inaccurate.”

Three London boroughs – Hackney, Havering and Kensington and Chelsea – were excluded from the BBC Shared Data Unit study because there were fewer than five listings for these areas on Open Rent.