According to a recent legal case, lettings agents and landlords around the country who refuse to rent to housing benefit claimants could be breaking equality laws.
Anybody who has spent any time looking for rental accommodation knows that the majority of rental agents refuse to rent to people claiming benefits or the unemployed. Over 95% of all accommodation adverts online carry warnings like “No DSS”, “Must be working”, “No benefits” or similar. If you lie to get past that initial barrier, you’ll find that the agents employ a company which is paid to check your credit score, any references given and also to check that you have a job. Tenants are expected to pay for this check via a non-returnable booking fee.
Allied to local council benefit policies that refuse to pay claimants their full rent, paying only an arbitrary amount that bears no relationship with actual local rents, this commonplace policy has led to huge swathes of the country being “no-go zones” for those on lower incomes or who find themselves out of work.
Single mother Rosie Keogh, a cleaner and former paralegal, took legal action claiming that blanket bans on benefit claimants indirectly discriminated against women, especially single women. Her case was that women are proportionately more likely to be claiming housing benefit than single men because they are often left to look after children and are forced to work part-time. Ms Keogh’s claim was supported by the housing charity Shelter.
According to a survery by Shelter in 2017, 43% of the 1,137 private landlords surveyed had an outright ban on letting to claimants and a 18% ‘preferred not to’ rent to them.
Lettings agent Nicholas George admitted indirect discrimination on the grounds of Ms Keogh’s gender and settled out of court with £2,000 compensation and the case established the principle of sexual discrimination under the Equality Act.
Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, said private renting was so expensive that many people could not get by without housing benefit, even if they were working. “Our advisers repeatedly hear from desperate mothers battling to find someone willing to let to them, in spite of being able to pay the rent. We are urging all landlords and letting agents to get rid of ‘no DSS’ policies, and treat people fairly on a case-by-case basis.”
Chris Norris, head of policy at the National Landlords Association, agreed there was no place for discrimination on the basis of someone’s gender. “Cases like this highlight the very worst of what a minority of renters have to put up with when looking to secure a home in the private rented sector.”
He added: “The number of landlords willing to rent to housing benefit tenants has fallen dramatically over the last few years because cuts to welfare and problems with the universal credit system are making it more and more difficult for anyone in receipt of housing support to pay their rent on time and sustain long-term tenancies.”
Labour’s housing spokesman John Healey said government cuts to housing benefit had stripped away the safety net for families and led to “no-go zones” for families on low and middle incomes. “These short-sighted decisions have made landlords more wary of tenants claiming housing benefit and so made discrimination more likely.”
Whilst we are happy that Ms Keogh was able to win her case, we are appalled that it was fought on the grounds of sexual discrimination. Disgusted, even. Because you only need to stop and think about it for a few seconds to realise what it really means.
Letting agents will no longer be able to discriminate against females in receipt of benefits (not only those with children) but will be perfectly free to tell men in exactly the same situation to bugger off. In future the adverts will read: “No men earning less than £25,000”
We’re slowly legalising absolute discrimination in every possible area against men.