Can private landlords refuse to let to Housing Benefit claimants?

by Readers Question

13:36 PM, 14th October 2020
About 7 days ago

Can private landlords refuse to let to Housing Benefit claimants?

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Can private landlords refuse to let to Housing Benefit claimants?

Those who believe that Government is not aware of the issues facing landlords in the PRS  may be surprised by the detailed analysis in the Briefing Paper published on 13th October by the House of Commons library.

The summary is quoted below but I recommend reading the whole report, which can be downloaded if you click here 

“Discriminating against Housing Benefit claimants?

It is not unusual for private landlords and letting agents to advertise properties to let stating that they will not accept applications from people who rely on Housing Benefit (HB) to pay their rent. Despite the Department of Social Security not having existed since 2001, the phrase used in adverts is usually “No DSS”. This has raised the question of whether such restrictions amount to unlawful discrimination. Although unlikely to amount to direct discrimination, as income and employment status are not protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010, it has long been argued that it could amount to indirect discrimination in some cases.

Findings of unlawful discrimination 2020

In what was described as a ‘landmark’ case, District Judge Victoria Elizabeth Mark sitting in York County Court, considered the case of a disabled single parent who had an application for private rented housing refused by a letting agent based on her receipt of Housing Benefit. In a judgment dated 2 July 2020, which was widely reported in the media on 14 July 2020, she held that the letting agent was in breach of the Equality Act 2010. The judgment declared that:

The Defendant’s former policy of rejecting tenancy applications because the applicant is in receipt of Housing Benefit was unlawfully indirectly discriminatory on the grounds of sex and disability contrary to sections 19 and 29 of the Equality Act 2010.

Reacting to the judgment, Chris Norris, policy director for the National Residential Landlords Association (NRLA) reportedly said:

No landlord should discriminate against tenants because they are in receipt of benefits. Every tenant’s circumstance is different, and so they should be treated on a case by case basis based on their ability to sustain a tenancy.

This was followed by a case considered in Birmingham County Court in which judgment was handed down on 8 September 2020. Circuit Judge and Acting Designated Civil Judge for Birmingham (now High Court Judge), Mary Stacey, held that the letting agency, Paul Carr, had operated a blanket ‘No DSS’ policy which amounted to unlawful indirect discrimination against disabled people.

Why are landlords reluctant to let to Housing Benefit claimants?

Historically, landlords were reluctant to let to HB claimants because of delays in processing HB applications, but since April 2008 a key factor influencing landlords has been the introduction of the Local Housing Allowance and the requirement that this, except in certain specified circumstances, is paid to claimants rather than landlords. Restrictions on the level of LHA paid to claimants were introduced by the Coalition Government in April 2011 – these changes led various housing bodies, including representative bodies of private landlords, to argue that HB claimants were being priced out of the market.

Further restrictions were introduced; for example, LHA rates were frozen with effect from April 2016 for four years. This added to landlords’ concerns about the gap between LHA and market rent levels. Evidence of disparities between actual rent levels and LHA rates payable submitted to the Communities and Local Government Select Committee’s inquiry into homelessness (2016) led the Committee to recommend that “Local Housing Allowances levels should also be reviewed so that they more closely reflect market rents.”

At the start of the fourth year of the benefit freeze (2019/20), analysis conducted by Shelter noted that the LHA rates for a two-bedroom home did not cover the full rent charged in 97% of Broad Rental Market Areas in England.

Other factors cited as reasons for landlords’ reluctance to let to HB claimants include:

  • uncertainly around the roll-out and implications of Universal Credit;
  • the payment of Housing Benefit in arrears;
  • restrictions in mortgage agreements and insurance requirements;
  • perceptions of benefit claimants as more likely to demonstrate anti-social behaviour; and
  • tax changes resulting in landlords focusing on “less risky” tenants.

The extent of the issue?

There is no definitive information on the extent to which landlords have refused to let to benefit claimants. Reported survey evidence has suggested an increase in the practice in recent years.

Given the increase in Universal Credit claims arising from the coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak, in June 2020 Shelter raised the potential implications of “No DSS” blanket bans for tenants:

Given the huge rise in the numbers of people receiving housing benefit and what we know about rates of discrimination, we’re concerned that there will be a significant increase in the numbers of people experiencing housing benefit discrimination in the coming months.

As people in existing tenancies tell their landlords they’ve applied for Universal Credit, and those who need to move home begin the search for somewhere to live, renters who are now relying on housing benefit to keep their head above water will be coming up against discrimination.

The likely spike in evictions in the months that follow the lifting of the evictions ban has the potential to exacerbate this further. When the ban is lifted, there will be an upsurge in the number of renters who need to look for a new home. A significant proportion of private renters who may be evicted will likely be receiving housing benefit, especially considering the huge rise in people applying for Universal Credit during the coronavirus outbreak, and so will be met by ‘No DSS’ policies.

In the wake of the finding of indirect discrimination in July 2020, it seems likely that instances of blanket ‘No DSS’ adverts will disappear. However, affordability checks based on a tenant’s individual circumstances will still be possible.

The issue had attracted an increased level of attention in recent years. On 21 February 2019 the Work and Pensions Select Committee launched an inquiry into No DSS: discrimination against benefit claimants in the housing sector – the inquiry had not concluded before the dissolution of Parliament for the 2019 General Election. On 1 March 2019 the then Minister, Heather Wheeler, said the Government was calling for “the end of housing advertisements which specify ‘No DSS’ tenants.” ”


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Kate Mellor

18:02 PM, 17th October 2020
About 4 days ago

Reply to the comment left by Old Mrs Landlord at 17/10/2020 - 10:29
Sorry, Old Mrs Landlord, I was using the term loosely. I wasn't referring to specific scientific studies, but just the logical conclusion that of the element of society that share some or all of the following attributes: criminality, anti-social behaviour, bad debt, poor personal management skills, severe mental illness, severe aggression/anger issues, drug and alcohol addictions; there will be a higher proportional representation in the benefit sector.
People with these attributes for example will normally be those that rent and cause landlords higher no.'s of issues.
To be clear I'm not suggesting by any means that all HB tenants are difficult as some are awesome tenants, and I have several HB tenants who I'd be sad to lose. Plus, if you get a good one, they tend to stay put much longer, which is a good thing.
I don't know where you would look for actually hard figures to prove this. You may need to think laterally and look for figures on the reasons for claiming benefits, such as the proportion of convicted criminals on benefits, for example...
I've linked to a couple of news articles which may be a starting point, and some reports published by the DWP in their Ad Hoc Statistical Analyses section. The ONS may have some helpful studies available, but I'd imagine that you will need to use the data to draw your own comparisons. A big job!

Old Mrs Landlord

19:46 PM, 17th October 2020
About 4 days ago

Reply to the comment left by Kate Mellor at 17/10/2020 - 18:02
Thank you very much Kate for your helpful links and sorry I read too much into your post - wishful thinking perhaps that this might have been the subject of empirical research as I should imagine it would have rather negative career implications in today's academic atmosphere.
The Local Authority where our lettings are situated holds forums for private landlords at which there are always requests for accommodation for tenants they are seeking to house. They stress the amount of "support", "backup" and special access to intermediary services that will be available which is tantamount to admitting these will be problem tenants who will give landlords trouble, in return for a considerably lower rent than we could get from tenants for whom we need no such support. As you say, good benefits tenants who have perhaps been dealt a poor hand in the health stakes can be very loyal and in areas where the rates are similar to market rents landlords can afford to take a chance on them. However, in many areas market rents are £100 or more a month above LHA rates. All prospective tenants need to be judged individually but, having said that, I have sympathy with landlords whose experience has led them to discriminate not against individual tenants but against the Universal Credit system.

Mick Roberts

6:19 AM, 18th October 2020
About 3 days ago

Reply to the comment left by Old Mrs Landlord at 17/10/2020 - 19:46
And Olds Mrs, do u know this support the Councils offer u, it stops, 6 months later, u on your own or so. Your contact has moved department & don't give a hoot. I've met 'em a year later accidentally at another house they wasn't expecting me at & gave 'em right arse-holing, let 'em know what they've actually done & screwed me & tenant over. If anything, just makes 'em think of their sh__ty promises.

I've got some great benefit tenants, some don't understand rent, & I've had an awful lot of bad ones, & my current ones are gonna' be argumentative as some are now, when their kids older & the HB won't pay their rent any more, which they don't understand, but for now, they very good.

We got to keep stressing IT IS THE UC SYSTEM that is making us not taking MOST benefit tenants. I was an hour yesterday writing to MP about Fraudsters nicking my tenants ID's & stopping the claims with no one to talk to at UC.
And another hour replying to PHSO about DWP & ICE on DWP constant mistakes & paying tenant after arrears & not communicating with Landlord & PHSO was damning, every paragraph was a cock-up by DWP. But guess what-No redress.

Chris @ Possession Friend

7:20 AM, 18th October 2020
About 3 days ago

Reply to the comment left by Mick Roberts at 18/10/2020 - 06:19
It's about time the blame for the predicament Tenants are in in is laid squarely at the 'designers and builders' door - the Govt who constructed UC.
The principles of it, for those that can manage it are one thing but it's actually at odds rather than working With the PRS.
Try renting a car or anything else and TELLING the company the circumstances and conditions under which you Are going to do business with them.
When they show you the door, nobody accuses them of discrimination ( most people understand that as common sense. )

Jonathan Clarke

9:03 AM, 18th October 2020
About 3 days ago

The high turnover of staff is a problem. When they start be they council or DWP they get a quick induction course but are not competent . They cant get a handle on the complexities cant take the stress and they leave . I had one promise me £1000 DHP over the phone . He had made it up , turned out he did that because he wanted to look good . I never got it . Another promised me £1300 in an e mail so on the strength of that i took on a tenant but the money came through and it was £400 short. Her supervisor said she made an error and shes left the organisation now . I said but I`m locked into a 6 mth tenancy now . Tough was their attitude Another said I would get the 1 bed rate but it turned out to be the shared room rate . I got £1800 compensation for that mistake . They sent £1600 the other day but they sent it to the wrong bank account ! I had given them my details and my LL ID code with them but still they messed up
If they had been one of my trades I would never work with them again such is their incompetence but they have a monopoly over tax payers money . But because they have no business acumen and its not their money they come to the table with a totally different focus . They cannot mange their own finances and processes effectively . But there are good effective public/private partnerships in existence . So it is possible if the heart is willing
I lose £25 a day say with a void while they process an application which takes them 10 days. I say to them I lose £250 as you are so slow.... why not process them before you send them to me for a viewing so i know and they know what their entitlement is . Treat it like a job interview . Be prepared . There are 10 prospective applicants . The workers come along with their wage slips and employers letter. The HB tenants come along with nothing . The staff say find a property first. I say find an income first and only then start looking for a property . The DHP is now a loan not a gift to the tenant . They didn't tell me this recent change in policy of course . So I do my DD. No loans etc . Send them to the council to apply for RIA and deposit via DHP up front . Then they go to the council and come out of it and start a tenancy with a £1200 debt ! The council now is just like these much criticised pay day lenders . No way would these tenants get a loan from a main stream lender. But the council give it to them to get them off their hands and pass the problem onto me
Like Mick I`ve had meetings with the housing chief and councillors and the people who make the decisions . I`ve suggested years ago a steering committee should be set up to pool ideas. They say good idea but then do nothing . The aspiring ones like to put it on their CV that they had a productive meeting with a private landlord . Box ticked . But it wasn't productive . It was simply a one off exploratory meeting. The start of a process . A productive meeting is when you work on those ideas and produce something positive at the end . And that requires some follow up work and follow up meetings to thrash out the detail . But that doesn't happen.
It`s largely just a paper exercise for them ...
The minutes show a meeting with a private LL . Job done
That apathetic culture is endemic within local government
And has been for as long as I can remember

Seething Landlord

15:56 PM, 18th October 2020
About 3 days ago

The reasons why landlords are reluctant to let property to benefit tenants have been rehearsed ad nauseam on this and other forums and whilst they are very interesting and informative they are to a large extent preaching to the converted and will be treated with scepticism by any politician who happens to be listening.
That is why this briefing paper is of such importance - it is an authoritative statement of all the arguments and includes references to the various surveys, reports that have been conducted and prepared over a number of years, and answers to parliamentary questions that have been raised, the most recent being the response from William Quince in September.
The purpose of the Paper is to act as a reference point for any Member of Parliament who wishes to acquaint himself with the issues and would hopefully be where any MP who receives a complaint or query about the system or the proposals for reform from a constituent would look for information. It is also very useful for anyone else who wants to follow the twists and turns that have led us to the present position and have easy access to the various documents that are available.
From the landlord's point of view it is obviously important that the paper is accurate and it would therefore be helpful if contributors could focus on criticism or support of the document itself, highlighting any mistakes, omissions or incorrect emphasis and using this as the reference point for any representations made to MPs or Government generally.
One of the issues is that government clearly believe that they have started to address many of the issues that are causing problems and if that is not correct they need to be told.
In the case of the proposed repeal of S21 government appear to have accepted that reform of the judicial system is a prerequisite although I would not bank on that in the light of recent experience.
They are equally determined to prohibit the blanket exclusion of benefit tenants and "no DSS" advertisements so need to be persuaded that the reforms proposed by the landlords associations and covered in the briefing paper need to be in place before any change is implemented.
It would be constructive to identify any points that have not already been made by NRLA and for members to lobby the association accordingly. Like it or not, that is the best chance of landlords' views being heard.

Mick Roberts

17:16 PM, 18th October 2020
About 3 days ago

Reply to the comment left by Chris @ Possession Friend at 18/10/2020 - 07:20
Yes very good point, we housing people, but they telling us we restricting the rules which means u at risk of not getting paid.

Mick Roberts

17:17 PM, 18th October 2020
About 3 days ago

Reply to the comment left by Jonathan Clarke at 18/10/2020 - 09:03Jonathon Clarke, about 2+ years ago when I went in Job Centre JC with a tenant who been with me about 17 years, I couldn't believe what they din't know, I did some name dropping & reeled off some people, they had managers come round table & say We really sorry Mick, we've only had a weeks training. I know me HB. I REALLY REALLY din't want to learn UC, but I now know loads more than most UC staff, it shun't be like that.
Only last week tenant rang up UC staff twice, wrong information back twice would have resulted in stopped payments. It's only when I used one of me Brownie points ringing JC manager that she said she could see the notes on the system & they shun't be telling him that, we over-rid it.
Wow the utter lies you've had Jonathan. And the promises they make at meetings u come away thinking Wow moving forward, 2 months later, still the same.
My JC managers are brilliant though, but I know I may not have them forever.

Jonathan Clarke

18:10 PM, 18th October 2020
About 3 days ago

Reply to the comment left by Seething Landlord at 18/10/2020 - 15:56
Sounding off on here is great as its just free therapy for me but it also hopefully brings something to 100`s of lurkers who never post but who absorb the content and then make their own choices going forward

Also it has value to the junior Gov assistant in the relevant housing department tasked to check out the major property portals and social media to get a flavour of current thinking of LL`s and collate that info for their bosses. So its a good direct route in to the powers that be

Whilst this briefing paper has some gravitas it is by no means the first study of its kind to look at the problem . Its been talked about ad nauseum in government since 2006 with studies by Shelter and subsequent years by RLA, NLA , Crisis, NatCen ,NHF etc etc

The problems are so widely known in Gov and have been for 14 long years and some solutions are so blatantly obvious but nothing is done to implement them . Or something is done as with the 2010 HB Amendment Regs enabling direct payment to LL to be made much more attainable again but then that policy is suddenly abandoned with the onset of UC which put us back in the dark ages .

So personally I don`t expect this report will make any significant progress as historically the other reports have failed to do so .

I conclude there is just not enough appetite or /and expertise in government to resolve the problems

I would be delighted to be proved wrong

Seething Landlord

18:57 PM, 18th October 2020
About 3 days ago

Reply to the comment left by Jonathan Clarke at 18/10/2020 - 18:10
I have personally learnt a lot from the posts from you and Mick Roberts over the years and am well aware of the frustration caused by mal-administration and the refusal to admit mistakes which is the default response of government departments and ministers. Those of us with very limited experience of dealing with benefit tenants have been alerted to pitfalls of which we would have been totally ignorant until we dropped into them, so please continue to share so that we can all learn.
The point I wanted to make about this Briefing Paper is that it is not a report trying to achieve any particular aim or with any axe to grind. It simply brings together the relevant evidence as a sort of aide-memoire showing the current state of play and how we got there, demonstrating as you said, that the problems are widely known in Government circles.

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