Work and Pensions Committee ‘No DSS’ discrimination evidence heard

Work and Pensions Committee ‘No DSS’ discrimination evidence heard

8:45 AM, 25th April 2019, About 3 years ago 21

Text Size

The All Parliamentary Work and Pensions Committee has widened its inquiries to take in other potential forms of direct or indirect housing discrimination against benefit recipients It will now look at the “no DSS” ads run by letting agents or the tech companies that promote them, to the property insurance policies that won’t cover homes rented to people who claim a benefit. Also asking mortgage lenders and agencies, whether their policies prevent landlords from letting to claimants who are on benefits.

The committee has heard from landlords and tenants, as well as banks, property agents and Shelter. The lenders and property agents are questioned about their policies in relation to benefit recipients, and what action they are going to take to rectify any potential discriminatory impacts of their policies. The landlords and tenants provided personal testimony of their experience of discrimination against benefit recipients in housing, and what the solutions are.

Witnesses Wednesday 24 April 2019 9.30am: Click Here to read the full transcript of the evidence discussed

  • Helena McAleer, Landlord
  • Lynne Mapp, Mother of tenant
  • Phillipa Lalor, Tenant
  • Greg Beales, Director of Communications, Policy and Campaigns, Shelter
  • Paul Wootton, Director of Home Proposition, Nationwide Building Society
  • Lloyd Cochrane, Head of Mortgages, National Westminster Bank plc
  • Gordon Soutar, Managing Director of Mortgages, The Co-operative Bank
  • Glynis Frew, Chief Executive Officer, Hunters Property Group
  • Adam Hyslop, Founder, OpenRent
  • Helen Buck, Executive Director – Estate Agency, Your Move
  • Matt Campion, Chief Executive, Shepherds Bush Housing Association

Final Exert from the Committee evidence:

Heidi Allen: Would paying the money direct to landlords again help?

Glynis Frew: Yes, that certainly helps. Unfortunately, as far as universal credit is concerned at the moment, it could probably take up to two or three months for that to take place, but that definitely helps. I have had a number of tenants who have said, “I don’t want them to give me the money, because I like to spend it.”

Q97            Heidi Allen: It’s just safer if it goes direct.

Glynis Frew: Yes, absolutely.

Adam Hyslop: I guess the first thing to say is that the worst thing to do here would be to ban the terminology around benefits claimants, without actually sorting the underlying issues. Simply prohibiting phrases in adverts would actually just prohibit us from advertising properties accurately. What we are very keen does not happen out of all of this is that the underlying issues are left unresolved, and that we are not allowed to explain to people whether they are likely to be eligible for a property up front.

That wouldn’t damage our business—to your question, Heidi—but what it would do is basically mean that tenants were spending a lot of time going on fruitless viewings, phoning up landlords and trying to explain their position, when that would have been resolved up front by a clear advert, which is what we believe we currently have.

To take that to the next level down, what we are really keen to do is engage on those three areas I mentioned in terms of why landlords are coming to us and telling us that they don’t want us to send tenants who are claiming benefits. It sounds like, today, you might have made progress on the mortgage side of things.

With regards to being able to insure rental payments, we are now at a scale where we can work directly with underwriters and try to innovate within the insurance industry. We think that, later this year, we will have a product that allows landlords to insure rental income. They are obviously nervous about it because they have never written these policies before, but we do have the scale where we can put it—

Q98            Heidi Allen: The insurers are innovators?

Adam Hyslop: Yes, absolutely. They can be quite slow moving and risk averse.

Q99            Heidi Allen: I used to work in that industry, so I know.

Adam Hyslop: But we can bring the scale so they can run proper trials, and we can hopefully prove to them that somebody receiving income via benefits is not higher risk than somebody earning that income elsewhere.

The third piece is around convincing landlords that benefits income is equivalent to other sources of income. Some of the things that have just been raised are certainly worthy of further investigation. Perhaps almost more effective would be an education piece around making it less scary and understanding how systems work. Yes, obviously, it is important that agents are trained and up to date with how the system works but, ultimately, the people you have got to convince are the landlords who are making the final decision on whether to let their property to this person or this person. We already have quite a lot of procedures and content in place that try to reassure landlords of that. As we have already covered, it is completely rational for landlords to consider a wider range or tenants to let their property more quickly and to ensure that they are happy with who is moving in to their property.

That third area feels like the area where there is a kind of collaboration. I would like to stress that the worst thing that could come out of this would be to prevent us advertising properties accurately without actually addressing the underlying reasons.

Q100       Chair: I agree with you totally; that is a very important point, Adam. Helen.

Helen Buck: My fellow panellists have explained some of the things that would make a big difference. We absolutely support an industry-wide code of conduct. About half of properties in this country do not go through an agent. We believe that we play a valuable role in ensuring that our landlords do comply. We train them on how to comply, we help them comply and we won’t work with them if they don’t comply.

The agent sector is quite an important sector in getting those standards up, but any code of conduct must cover landlords as well. I have already touched on some aspects of the benefits system, particularly universal credit. Under the housing benefit system we had sort of navigated our way in our best branches on how to use it, and there is more we can do across the piece.

Universal credit is challenging. Why would landlords not want to have a tenant where the money is coming directly from the Government? That is really secure. There are a few other things such as clawback worries. Some of our landlords, if they have experienced it, have this concern that, if it has been overpaid, it could come back. I think those are much smaller issues, but they are worth looking at.

Glynis talked about the plethora of legislation. It is a lot, and it is our job to work through it and to ensure we help our landlords, but because it has come in over many years and is a bit piecemeal, we would really welcome something that stepped back and said, “How can we make sure this all fits together in a sensible way?” That needs to be across Government and industry, incorporating all the key players.

Q101       Chair: If we made some proposals where new laws were required, we could also make a recommendation, couldn’t we, Helen, that they consolidate into that Act all the other important bits and pieces from previous Acts, to codify into one Act what the arrangements should be?

Helen Buck: I agree. It has just been a long period of time. That was for good reasons, and we support trying to improve the quality of the housing stock available to tenants, but it has ended up being quite piecemeal, and there are complexities in it that we could simplify. Then we could help our landlords to ensure more easily that they are fully compliant.

Q102       Chair: Can I ask Matt to come in on this?

Matt Campion: The area where I have sympathy with the landlords is the administration of universal credit. In Shepherds Bush we run a debt and welfare benefits advice service that is not available just to our residents, but to any member of the west London community—

Q103       Chair: You must be overrun with cases and inquiries, aren’t you?

Matt Campion: We do have a lot of demand. We find that a lot of the cases that are difficult involve some kind of dispute over medical assessments from the client’s claim, particularly where there is an ESA or PIP—personal independence payment—claim. We find that a large number of cases are refused at the mandatory reconsideration phase, but then we go on to win at tribunal phase. I can see, for landlords, that means a long delay in getting that income and uncertainty as to whether they will get it. If you are an individual buy-to-let landlord or you only have two or three properties, you will not have the resources or the time that we would have at Shepherds Bush to navigate through that benefits system. While clearly I am a strong believer in not banning residents who are claiming DSS, the interplay with universal credit needs to be looked at to make that work.

Q104       Derek Thomas: Can I pick up on that? If we achieve this wonderful thing, so that in future there will be no “No DSS” adverts and that culture is gone from the market, do you see that we will end up with landlords insisting that the universal credit part of housing benefit be paid direct to them as part of the tenancy agreement? That is picking up on your point, Matt. Can you see that becoming the default position, to address some of those concerns?

Matt Campion: Potentially. My understanding is that, if a private landlord has a tenant who is working, they would insist that that person set up a direct debit to pay their rent every month, so I do not see why they would not insist that somebody who has a benefit-derived income could set up that direct debit. Certainly, within our ethical lettings, we find that residents on benefit-derived income can sometimes find that difficult, because if there is a delay in their benefit claim for some reason, their direct debit can bounce, and that causes all sorts of costs with their banking. But I suppose that would be the nirvana we want to reach, where people claiming benefits receive their benefits on time, without interruption and possibly in advance for their housing costs, where they have to pay a month’s rent in advance or pay a deposit.

Q105       Chair: If only.

Matt Campion: If only wishing made it so.

Q106       Derek Thomas: Would you be fairly comfortable, then, if we got to that point where part of the agreement was that you give permission for the housing part of your benefit to be paid directly to the landlord? Are you fairly content with that? It would help to reassure landlords and potentially open up more properties.

Matt Campion: I think so. That is probably a question that other panel members can answer better than I can.

Q107       Derek Thomas: You are nodding, so I assume you would.

Glynis Frew: Yes, I think it would be a lot better, because it minimises the risk. That is the thing, isn’t it? It minimises the risk.

Helen Buck: That is what landlords are looking for. All they really want is a secure source of income that comes in on time and can pay off the mortgage if they have one. So that helps enormously.

Adam Hyslop: If you boil it down to the motivations of different parties, whether mortgage lenders, insurers or landlords, if they see benefits income as equivalent to earned income, there is absolutely no rational reason—let alone a moral one—to discriminate based on the source of that income. Anything you guys can do to convince landlords, lenders and insurers that these things are equivalent would be welcome. Even better, to Helen’s point, if that money is coming direct from Government, you might be in a position where that is considered superior to income from other sources. I think the ideal outcome of this would be that those income sources are then on parity. Nobody is currently insisting that that money is earned in a particular industry, so why should they insist on whether it comes from benefit payments?

Q108       Chair: Taxpayers are always more reliable than anybody else, aren’t they? We have taken on board your point, Adam: we must not push this underground. If we are serious about this, we must get lenders and insurers to stop the discrimination.

Adam Hyslop: Absolutely, because currently we can educate landlords and say, “Look, you should be looking at benefit applicants,” but there are two places to hide, which we just highlighted, where currently we cannot really—

Chair: As we heard from our first witness, if the lender and insurer tell you that you can’t, what are you to do?

Q109       Heidi Allen: To summarise, between you, you represent a big chunk of the private rental market. Matt is an intermediary that you have created to navigate some of the issues. But it sounds like you have not had active involvement with the DWP in terms of helping. So I think one of our recommendations should be for you to be involved as a stakeholder partner with DWP so that the Government can fully understand not just the mechanics of how it works at the moment but the additional difficulties that universal credit is placing on top of this already difficult, dysfunctional market, to see the damage that UC is doing. It will only go one way.

Chair: They should have rent coaches as well as work coaches.

Q110       Heidi Allen: You have just given Matt a job. If that would seem useful, it should be a recommendation that your industry is more heavily involved with the DWP on how this works, because it is clearly dysfunctional and not working for great swathes of people who are on benefits.

Helen Buck: Yes.

Glynis Frew: Yes.



Comments

by Arnie Newington

18:47 PM, 26th April 2019, About 3 years ago

What a nonsense landlords don’t discriminate on the basis of sex. They discriminate on the basis of ability to pay which is not illegal.

I can’t believe that this committee even exists but it just goes to show the ridiculous influence that Shelter have on this government.

by Martin S

10:49 AM, 27th April 2019, About 3 years ago

As far as I am concerned, people can discuss the No DSS issue until they are blue in the face, but as a landlord of nearly 30 years standing, as a business model, I've never taken on tenants in receipt of housing benefit, as the potential pitfalls are too great, and this isn't going to change any time soon.
Because of this ability to select financially sound tenants, I'm happy to say that over the years, I've been on friendly terms with 95% of my tenants, all of whom have chosen to terminate tenancies themselves.
It seems the aim here is to embarrass Landlords and others, into accepting tenants on UC, but it's not going to work here! Government policies are aimed at reducing expenditure on benefits, with those at the bottom end bearing the biggest brunt of the cuts. Would I, and others, willingly become financially involved in this sad scenario? If Government were truly looking to help these potential tenants, then it would look at the means to do so, but there is no inclination to do so.
As Landlords, we are aware that Government views us with contempt, and treats us accordingly. It is time we returned the compliment wherever possible. The recent Parliamentary shambles re Brexit shows what an inept bunch Government are, and realistically in no moral position to judge us, never mind lead on issues relating to housing. Being bereft of any original thought themselves, they are subject to predatory influences and lobbying from 3rd parties. As Landlords, if we do not have an effective means of countering these pressures, then we only have ourselves to blame.

by Mick Roberts

11:43 AM, 27th April 2019, About 3 years ago

Frank Fields is a good man and he knows there is a problem with UC, but I think too much emphasis was put on this meeting to why banks aren't allowing etc. When we know the real cause is UC ain't reliable enough and last few years, Govt changing things when tenant is already in the house like Benefit Cap etc.

by Chris

13:17 PM, 27th April 2019, About 3 years ago

I have lost around £21,000 of rent from Housing Benefit tenants and only about £5,000 from non benefit tenants despite getting direct payments.
Councils won't keep on paying if tenants do not respond to letters requesting updated details.
I have had benefit tenants disapear without returning the keys or posting them back a couple of weeks after they have left.

by Appalled Landlord

13:53 PM, 27th April 2019, About 3 years ago

Reply to the comment left by Appalled Landlord at 25/04/2019 - 13:47
In an advert for Moneybox, Paul Lewis said on BBC Breakfast this morning that Shelter’s court cases have worked. He was just as supportive of Shelter on the radio programme. https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m0004lc5

The DSS section started 16 minutes in, with a recording of “Rosie” who claimed she won her case.  Paul Lewis introduced Greg Beales as a director of Shelter and Adam Hyslop as someone who runs a website which lists property to rent, but he did not name it.

Lewis was convinced by Beales that No DSS is unlawful and hectored Hyslop, who said it isn’t unlawful.  Lewis said that benefits are more secure than wages! He allowed Beales to talk over Hyslop’s replies. Lewis asked “Why would you not want someone on benefits?”
 
Beales called OpenRent “a cesspit of discrimination”.  Will Hyslop sue? https://www.linkedin.com/in/adamhyslop
 
Asked why agents discriminated, Hyslop said it was because of lenders.  He should have given the real reasons.

Lewis asked for comments to be sent to moneybox@bbc.co.uk or twitter@moneybox

by Mick Roberts

15:53 PM, 27th April 2019, About 3 years ago

Reply to the comment left by Appalled Landlord at 27/04/2019 - 13:53
Thanks for email, I've emailed him. I missed that this morning, must have been on after I've done me bits & gone in office.

by Mick Roberts

16:06 PM, 27th April 2019, About 3 years ago

Reply to the comment left by Chris at 27/04/2019 - 13:17
That's the thing, we can talk from experience.
I have had hundreds, maybe thousands of HB tenants.
And hundreds of working tenants.
And more recently, Letting Agent squeaky clean, passed credit checks, tenants.
These Letting Agent ones maybe cost me ten mins per year in admin, time, repairs (if any repairs) etc.
the HB tenants (Although the majority of mine are good now), some take 6 hours EACH, per month.
If that's not evidence, then what is......

by Luke P

16:37 PM, 27th April 2019, About 3 years ago

Reply to the comment left by Mick Roberts at 27/04/2019 - 16:06
I know you know why, Mick but for those that maybe don’t…it’s because these tenants really belong in the seemingly non-existent social sector where there is either more support or quicker access to support that they require than we as PRS LLs can provide. Many need social workers (even if not yet identified) and in the past would have been quickly reported/referred to the relevant local authority’s department following any such visit to the property by any other department’s staff (maintenance, for example) upon return to the council’s offices. If I visit one of my tenants and see they require specific social orcommunity assistance, I have no internal department to call upon. We are only filling a gap left by government failure, but have now become relied upon. The problem for councils with freemarket, private enterprise and investment is that we are not bound by the same responsibilities as the social sector (nor should we be expected to be), yet they have no ‘in-house’ alternative. In an attempt to alleviate some of their own strains, they’re now hoping to dictate how/what/when/who we rent to in order that they meet their own objectives without considering we may simply exit the market and market the whole damn thing a thousand times worse…!

by Mick Roberts

16:46 PM, 27th April 2019, About 3 years ago

Reply to the comment left by Luke P at 27/04/2019 - 16:37
Yes we Social workers are we too.
And immigration Police.
Just pass all the buck onto us.

by Appalled Landlord

12:54 PM, 28th April 2019, About 3 years ago

At the start of her programme on Sky News today, Sophy Ridge promised a story about one aspect of the housing crisis “that I found particularly shocking”. Yes, you’ve guessed it, No DSS.

At 09.30 she showed the results of her trip to Birmingham. The first part was an interview with Rosie Keogh in her terraced home. Rosie said she had viewed a property in Moseley [in the Moseley and King’s Heath ward of Birmingham] and was invited back to the agent’s office to “register my interest in the property”. When she told them that she was on HB the agent told her they would have to end the registration process because it might affect the mortgage or insurance documents (sic) and she was told that the landlord would not have her because she was on HB.

Sophy said “You were working at the time?” Rosie said “Yes, I’m a self-employed cleaner.”
“And you had children at the time?” “Yes, I have two children. I have sole responsibility for my two little boys.”

She said “I felt really angry and so frustrated and so angry because we had no choice but to remain in the private rented sector because I don’t qualify for social housing, so where were we supposed to live? Where? Who would have us?”

This moment of pathos ended her involvement. In fact, at the time, Rosie was already renting a property in the PRS, but she had wanted to move into a smart area.

Her legal action against the agent, with the help of Shelter and a pro bono barrister, was not mentioned. If Sophy asked Rosie why she settled out of court for £2,000 ,when Shelter is desperate for a court ruling, we did not see it.

Rosie was a part-time, self-employed cleaner with sole responsibility for two little boys. Is it likely she would have got the property even if she was not on HB?

Is it likely she would have been awarded damages for feeling angry? See
https://www.property118.com/shelters-campaign-rosie-likely-succeed-got-court/

Rosie is one of Shelter’s prize propaganda assets. Her voice was heard on the Moneybox programme yesterday, saying she had won her case.

Then Sophy interviewed another of Shelter’s assets, the landlord who appeared with him at the Work and Pensions Committee hearing last Wednesday. She had not complied with her lender’s conditions, or her insurer’s, and had taken a tenant on HB.

Then Sophy gave Greg Beales a platform. He claimed people were being made homeless because people will not accept benefit recipients.

Finally they showed a reply from the MHCLG that said “over the coming months the Government will meet industry representatives to discuss how to end the practice [No DSS adverts] once and for all”.

You may be able to access the programme on demand if your Freeview/Freesat box is connected to the internet. Parts of the hour long programme will be repeated in half-hour slots at 16.30 and 21.30 so the section may be shown again.

Sophy did not make any enquiries as to why tenants who receive benefits are regarded as less desirable than people who do not need them. It was sufficient for her to be “shocked”.

The contact details shown on the banner at the bottom of the screen were:
news@sky.com #Ridge

Greg Beales is using ignorant broadcasters to display their shock and horror, and nobody is putting forward the reasons for the discrimination.


Leave Comments

Please Log-In OR Become a member to reply to comments or subscribe to new comment notifications.

Forgotten your password?

BECOME A MEMBER