Will Shelter sue Birmingham City Council or letting agents and landlords?

Will Shelter sue Birmingham City Council or letting agents and landlords?

8:39 AM, 30th August 2018, About 6 years ago 13

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On 22 August Shelter issued its press release about the mystery shopping, which had notes for editors.  The first note said detailed research can be found in ‘Stop DSS Discrimination: Ending prejudice against renters on benefits’ – copies available from Shelter’s press office.

The conclusion of that document included this paragraph: “The widespread prejudice towards housing benefit renters set out in this report is not only morally unjust, it could be unlawful. ‘No DSS’ policies could amount to indirect discrimination because women, especially single mothers, and people with disabilities, are more likely to rely on housing benefit to top up their rent. The bottom line is that discriminating against housing benefit tenants on face value is unacceptable in 2018.”

This press release was ignored by all the daily papers except the Mirror.  But the BBC were not to know that would happen, and had prepared in advance a discussion about the alleged ban on the Victoria Derbyshire programme on BBC2.  It is available here to watch or download until 20 September: Click Here

The discussion starts at 1 hour 39 minutes in.  But on the way, at about 8 minutes in, the News slot has the newsreader quoting the press release about bans on housing benefit tenants “wreaking havoc on hundreds of thousands of people’s lives”.

Victoria introduced the discussion by referring to “people who are protected by anti-discrimination laws – like people with disabilities”.  She did not mention women.

Those involved were: Stephen Tyler, who was disabled after an accident in 2016, Richard Lambert, CEO of the NLA, Karen Jackson who is a disabilities discrimination lawyer, and Greg Beales, Shelter’s Director of Communications, Policy & Campaigns,  He took up this  role in September 2017 after leaving his position as Senior Director of the multinational advertising agency WPP.  Beales is a former Downing Street adviser to Prime Ministers Gordon Brown and Tony Blair, and formerly Director of Strategy and Planning for the Labour Party.

Victoria said that five of England’s leading letting agents actively discriminate against tenants on housing benefit (quoting the first line of Shelter’s press release), and could be in breach of the Equality Act.  That first line was completely misleading.  It suggested that the agents had company-wide discrimination policies, although the survey itself told Shelter that this was not true.  In fact the survey claimed that a tiny minority of their branches discriminated. Click Here

However, Shelter’s Director of Communications did not jump in to correct her.

Stephen Tyler, who was in a wheelchair, said that since February he has had to sleep in his car.  He said he was evicted from his previous property after he asked for adaptations to be made for wheelchair access.  He said that Birmingham City Council provided 5 nights in a hotel room for himself and his children then aged 1 and 3 – he did not say why his partner was not there.  The council then offered them accommodation 90 miles away.  He said they offered his youngest child a bus-pass to travel the 90 miles to a nursery and back. (This does not make sense, there must be a nursery near the offered accommodation.)

He said no letting agent or landlord that he had phoned accepted “DSS”, they all prioritised working tenants.  He said he could not work in the career he wanted – as a driver – so he has to be on housing benefit, which they won’t accept.

He said that his partner and children had gone to live with her parents. As her mother was also disabled her house had wheelchair access so he was able to get in to take showers, but he couldn’t live there because he could not get up the stairs.  His own parents were not mentioned.

At the end of his piece he said “I’ve approached Birmingham City Council and private Housing Associations, but nobody wants to help, at all.”

Victoria then asked “What is wrong with a tenant on housing benefit, who can answer that?” Greg Beales of Shelter immediately jumped in and steered the subject away from the council and housing associations back on to letting agents. (Phew, that was close!  You can have too many facts.)

He said ”Stephen is a victim of straightforward prejudice. Letting agents are not assessing him for whether or not he can afford a property, whether or not he would be a good tenant”  “Why?” asked Victoria. Beales said “It’s prejudice I’m afraid, there is no other word for it. It’s discriminatory.” he said, adding another word for it.

He said “I mean I actually think facts show that people on benefits are very good tenants.(with an emphatic shake of his head), landlords make as much profit from people who are on benefits as landlords make from people who aren’t on benefits”.  (I actually think I would like to see the facts he referred to.)

He blamed shows like Benefits Street and Benefits Britain, and some politicians, for “giving a completely misleading impression in our society of what it means to receive benefits, and that’s leading to this sort of prejudice”. (Oh, I see, they are being turned down because of their public image, not because they are more likely to be late with the rent, or even just spend the housing benefit on other things.)

At one point Beales managed to squeeze in the statistic that 60% of people on housing benefit are women.  He then said “Our intent over the next few months is to bring a series of test cases to ask the courts to look at this closely, ……to ask them to say it’s unlawful.”

Victoria asked Karen Jackson whether on the face of it, it would seem to be unlawful.  She replied “Absolutely, I think there is an indirect discrimination claim for somebody in Stephen’s situation but also in other disability claims (sic)”. She didn’t mention women.

Richard Lambert, CEO of the NLA, said he was shocked that letting agents were doing it and said three times that he did not know the reason,  He said there had been “a great reduction in the number of landlords who are prepared to work in the benefits market”, but he did not explain why.  He did not mention that S24 was forcing rents up beyond the reach of HB tenants, or forcing landlords to sell up and evict them.

Lambert said a ban was wrong, unethical and unlawful – even though the other two had indicated that this has not yet been decided by a court.

Nobody asked Stephen why he did not work in a different type of job. Nobody asked him why he refused the property he was offered. Nobody asked what the likelihood was of a property with wheelchair access being vacant and available to rent in the PRS.  Assessing  him for affordability will not overcome that barrier. However, common sense questions like that only get in the way of Shelter’s claim that he could be the victim of indirect discrimination, which might be illegal.

Now it’s decision time. Birmingham City Council gave Shelter £933,000 in the year to March 2017 to spend on four different projects, and £819,000 in the previous year for three projects. Do you think that Shelter will be taking Birmingham City Council to court for discriminating against Stephen by not providing a property with wheelchair access on its own patch?

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Karen OBrien

10:19 AM, 30th August 2018, About 6 years ago

There are 2 main reasons why landlords prefer not to let to housing benefit tenants . Reason 1. sometimes if they have a buy to let mortgage on the property the lender will not allow it as it breaches the mortgage conditions to allow DSS tenants . Reason 2. when a landlord requires their property back to sell or for any other legal reason , the outgoing housing benefit tenant cannot find a new place to live and goes to the council for help , especially if they have children and have received the section 21 notice to leave. The council then tell them that they have to stay in the property passed their end of tenancy date until they are evicted before they can help them . This costs the landlords a huge amount time and money to go to court to regain possession legally , they then therefore rightly do not ever want to rent to this sort of tenant again. Its the same old story government not providing enough affordable homes which is forcing rents up . When banning of tenants fees come in next year the situation will only get worse as landlords will increase rents to cover the costs that the letting agents will need to charge for referencing of tenants and inventories . When tenants fees were banned in Scotland rents rose by 25% over the next 2 years. The government do not listen to the professionals, they should regulate the lettings industry and put maximum prices on tenants fees .


10:19 AM, 30th August 2018, About 6 years ago

Interesting article and I’m disappointed the person from the NLA appeared to miss the opportunity to make the valid points on Victoria Derbyshire that he could/should have done.
Not sure I like the bias in the wording of your poll at the end - “saintly...” is unnecessary!

Dr Rosalind Beck

10:31 AM, 30th August 2018, About 6 years ago

It is very disappointing that those who are paid to advocate for landlords join in with the virtue signalling, rather than counter biased representations of flawed research. Well done AL for challenging this with facts and clear analysis. As you point out, our supposedly top-notch journalists don't ask the glaringly obvious questions - either because they're too thick/ignorant or because they don't dare challenge these accounts for fear of being ostracised.

Bill O'Dell

10:53 AM, 30th August 2018, About 6 years ago

Maybe it is time for NLA or RLA or 118 to meet with Victoria Derbyshire and put the landlords side of the argument. I wonder if Shelter would attend that?

Old Mrs Landlord

11:41 AM, 30th August 2018, About 6 years ago

Reply to the comment left by Phil Ireland at 30/08/2018 - 10:19
I understood the poll and its wording as an ironical attempt to mirror the biased and selective way Shelter present 'facts' in order to manipulate public perception of landlords and their own public image as the "UK's no. 1 housing charity" instead of the taxpayer-subsidised political organisation they are in reality. It's like a wild west film with the goodies (Shelter and the virtue signallers) in white hats and the baddies (landlords and letting agents) in black.

Question Everything

13:10 PM, 30th August 2018, About 6 years ago

To gain S24 and higher SDLT, not that much public opinion was required. But, to get reforms that legislate to require landlords to take DSS on a proportion of their portfolio may need more of this kind of narrative, especially if you can have 'legitimate' people on like lawyers and Priministers' Advisors involved.

It doesn't matter if it is their cause is true or not, what they want is for the PRS to become social housing to take the burden from the state. The wheelchair guy with young children is the perfect case for this false rhetoric. The obvious point here is to paint as ugly a picture as possible so that future legislation can be passed without much opposition.

We can fight directly against Shelter, but I think maybe they are just the employee of the system. Who is behind Shelter who can allow a 'charity' as expensive and insolvent as they are to operate? What 'good' do they do that it is worth their tens of millions of pounds each year?

It's obvious, 'they who use Shelter' pay big money to have the right faces on the board of directors and to be eloquent enough to sound convincing to the public. What better an ally than a charity. The 'charity' is the front, it is their own campaign machine in action.

The government is broke, they have no further money to spend on building social housing and they know from experience (though they won't admit it) that the servicing of the social housing sector is expensive in itself. The gov's have tried to squeeze the arm of the construction industry but they have just too much economical power (gifts to Right Honourables) and with the land they own, too much bargaining power. Even the charade of the "low cost housing" is still at least double what the low income earners can afford, but it leverages their politics for getting local council planning. Local councils are, as we know, also broke so if the construction industry can bring in more council tax per sq ft, quids in!

Then we have the international investors who buy up all of these new-build flats and sit on them like gold, so even if there are 'new properties' there are actually less that are available to Jo Public. So here along comes the need to get a squeeze somewhere, so how about little old mum & dad PRS.

One thing I have learned from having a profession in the events/media industry is that there is no such thing as spontaneity, no such thing as an organic development. Everything is planned in detail, though not necessarily competently but it doesn't matter because they know the audience is largely dumb. Simple tricks keep them amused and so long as the narrative continues and the sound loud enough and the lights bright enough they will suck it all in and not notice the machinations behind.

We have to talk to the Organ Grinder, not the monkey. But who is that? I suspect Greg Beales knows, or maybe at least he knows who knows.

Appalled Landlord

16:50 PM, 30th August 2018, About 6 years ago

Shelter’s Director of Communication swiftly put the blame on letting agents for Stephen’s predicament, even though the latter had just said that “I’ve approached Birmingham City Council and private Housing Associations, but nobody wants to help, at all.”

When did it become the responsibility of the PRS to house people who need wheelchair access and other structural alterations to properties?

Christopher Marsden

18:27 PM, 30th August 2018, About 6 years ago

NLA and RLA are like 'Dads Army' (if any of you can remember that)
Landlord's need unite under a single banner with the numbers and funding and get someone articulate with skin in the game so they can with evidence give our side of the story that is the perfect storm that is the PRS Uk Today.
Nla subscription is £80 a year but cannot see they have made any difference whatsoever to government policy over last 4 yrs.


20:27 PM, 30th August 2018, About 6 years ago

I'm a landlord and I don't accept DSS. Not because of the person - I have no issues with people on benefits as I think the UK is amazing with how it looks after it's people and these benefits make a huge difference to their quality of life. However, as far as I'm aware, if said tenant has been claiming DSS illegally then the council can claim all the rent back from me as the landlord. Why would I take on that risk? If the council changed that rule and benefits were recouped from the tenant then I would be way more open to accepting DSS. But nowadays everything is based on the level of risk you are willing to take on.

Mike T

22:26 PM, 30th August 2018, About 6 years ago

Reply to the comment left by leannemurphy at 30/08/2018 - 20:27
I agree, why should we have to take a risk if we don't want to ? Who's going to step in and help us pay for the losses we incur ? NO ONE. After recently serving a section 21, and the tenant saying 'we can't find a property we can afford so wer'e staying put until you evict us' . Then turning to Shelter for help they get the same advice. Ultimately it took almost 7 months to get them out. With almost £1,000 in court costs plus 3 months loss of rent ("why should they pay when I'm taking them to court " is their reasoning ) So really we all know why some of us are not keen on taking 'DSS' folk.

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