8:48 AM, 29th August 2018, About 5 years ago 39
Last week Shelter published the results of their mystery shopper exercise, in partnership with National Housing Federation (NHF). The latter is in the social sector so it is a mystery in itself why they are involved, except that by attacking the PRS they can deflect attention away from the defects in their own sector, examples of which I am sure P118 readers could provide.
David Orr, chief executive of the NHF, made a ludicrous comparison with the racial discrimination of 60 years ago, in an attempt to denigrate the PRS.
The press release was called ‘No DSS’: Five leading letting agents risk breaking discrimination law”: Click Here
It starts: Five of England’s leading letting agents actively discriminate against tenants on housing benefit, according to a new report by Shelter and the National Housing Federation (NHF)
In an undercover investigation carried out by Mystery Shoppers Ltd. 149 regional letting agent branches were called by researchers posing as prospective tenants. A shocking one in ten had a branch policy not to let to anyone on housing benefit, regardless of whether they could afford the rent.
The worst offender out of the six big brands investigated was Haart, with an outright ban on housing benefit tenants in a third of the branches called (8 out of 25). The only letting agent not to have any bans in place, was Hunters (0 out of 25).
The research also exposes the wider uphill struggle faced by housing benefit tenants. Almost half (48%) of branches called said they had no suitable homes or landlords willing to let to someone on housing benefit.
Appalled by the findings, the two housing organisations have joined forces to urge letting agents and landlords to remove these bans, which they argue are both grossly unfair and likely to be unlawful.
The failure of successive governments to build enough social housing means that there are an estimated 1.64 million adults who now rely on housing benefit to help with expensive private rents. The majority are women – especially single mothers with childcare responsibilities. People who receive disability benefits are also three times more likely to need a housing benefit top-up.
Consequently, under the Equality Act 2010, letting agents who reject housing benefit tenants outright could be at risk of breaking the law because of indirect discrimination against women and disabled people.
Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, said: “This ugly undercurrent of discrimination is wreaking havoc on hundreds of thousands of people’s lives. ‘No DSS’ is an outdated and outrageous example of blatant prejudice.
“Private renting is now so expensive that many people simply can’t get by without some housing benefit, even if they’re working. At Shelter we hear from families – who’ve always paid their rent – being pushed to breaking point after having the door repeatedly slammed shut on them just because they need housing benefit.
“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.”
Hang on a minute. When did Shelter become a housing organisation? How many beds does it provide exactly? Answers: Never, and none.
Only someone prejudiced, and with a propensity to hyperbole, could describe the tiny minority of 10% as shocking. It means 90% of the branches did not have a ban.
This shows how wrong the first line of the press release was. It suggests that the agents had company-wide discrimination policies, although the survey itself told Shelter that this was not true. Who was responsible for giving such a wrong impression?
The first line should have read “The overwhelming majority of 149 branches of five of England’s leading letting agents do not actively discriminate against tenants on housing benefit”.
Was nobody numerate involved? Amusingly, the total sample of 149 is shown as 149% of itself!
56 branches said they had no ban, but had no properties currently available to HB tenants. It seems to me a fine distinction between having a ban and not having a ban if there are no properties available to HB tenants. Is it a ban or is it a dearth?
In the other 78 cases, the answer was not clear enough to fit into the above categories. That is more than half of the sample. How much did the survey cost, I wonder. Shelter should ask for its money back.
However, the next day Haart corrected them. A spokesperson for Haart said: “It is not our policy to refuse housing benefit tenants – anyone who passes referencing checks is able to rent properties listed with our branches.
“We do regularly arrange tenancies for those claiming housing benefits and currently have 112 tenancies where this is the case.
“This research has brought to light that some of our branches are misinformed and we are working to ensure that this policy is being followed across our network.
“We are sorry for any occasion where this has not been the case.” Click Here to view Property Industry Eye article.
That brings the total down from fifteen to seven, or 4.7%. And it begs the question as to why four other chains would have one, or two, branches out of step with the other 23 or 24 branches in their chains. Maybe it was a number of terrible misunderstandings between strangers on the phone.
In the same article, two people who do know something about the PRS explained the facts to Shelter:
Isobel Thomson, CEO of the National Approved Letting Scheme, rebutted their claim forcefully:
“The majority of lettings and management agents are professionals who are skilled at managing housing benefit and universal credit tenancies, dealing with applicants on a case by case basis.
“Many agents help prospective and existing tenants obtain access to the benefits they are entitled to.
“An assumption that there is widespread discrimination, particularly of women and disabled people on benefits, is emotive conjecture and fails to paint an accurate picture of the sector.
“In some areas tenants on benefits form agents’ client base.
“Vilification of letting agents and landlords will not resolve housing problems where the provision of sufficient social housing is at the heart of the matter.
“The complexity of the benefits system and delays in payment add to the difficulties.
“Shouldn’t we be working together to come up with solutions which could solve the ills of the sector to ensure that no vulnerable tenants are left behind, rather than castigating one section of it?”
David Smith, RLA policy director, said:
“The benefits system makes it inherently challenging for claimants to pay their rent in full and on time as it pays in arrears, compared to rents which are paid in advance.
“Our most recent member survey shows a huge increase in the number of landlords experiencing tenants on Universal Credit going into arrears, rising from 27% in 2016 to 61% now.
“At a time of huge demand for private rented housing, it is not surprising that landlords would rather choose a tenant who can pay the rent when it is due.” Click Here to view Property Industry Eye article
Well said both. Do you get it, Polly? I know you have only been CEO for 12 months, and have got a lot to learn, but this is common knowledge in the industry. You can catch up quickly Click Here
However, your paid-for intervention will ensure that no agent will have a ban on HB claimants in future. Well done! But will it provide one more property for HB tenants that wasn’t there before?
The press release was such obvious dross that the only newspaper to carry it was the Mirror. Its article had the amusing sub-heading “The rules apply even if they CAN afford to pay the rent” – as if that was a bonus rather than a basic requirement. Click Here
Beneath the article was a comment from Paul 0040:
“David Orr, chief executive of the National Housing Federation needs to look closer to home. Most housing associations have financial assessments and when they discover you are on benefits its normally downhill from there.”
Even the Guardian did not publish an article about the survey, and that paper usually repeats any old anti-PRS tat. That must have been galling, Polly, after all that sloppy work, all that money, and all your hyperbole.
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