Major listing promises end to benefit discrimination

People receiving housing benefit can no longer be barred from renting properties advertised on Zoopla.

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UK listing site Zoopla has announced that is to prohibit landlords posting “No DSS” ads on their site, as recent reports show that one in 10 agents in England refused to let to tenants receiving benefits.

Currently, approximately 889,000 people in England receive housing benefit to help pay their rent.

According to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG), around half of landlords would not be willing to let to them.

In November, the National Housing Federation and charity Shelter published analysis of 86,000 letting agent adverts on Zoopla, which found that 8,710 of the postings contained the words “no DSS” or “no housing benefit”.

Other adverts implied that no one on benefits was welcome – for example, by saying “professionals only”.

While it is not unlawful to refuse people on benefits, Shelter said it was likely to contravene the Equality Act.

Earlier this month, Housing Minister Heather Wheeler called for the practice to be stopped, and said the government would explore the option of making it illegal.

She warned that if the sector was unwilling to act then the government would “explore all options to remove this practice”.

Parliament’s Work and Pensions Committee has since launched an inquiry into discrimination against benefits claimants.

It is quizzing lenders, landlords, agents and benefit recipients and running an online survey of claimants who have had problems finding a place to rent or problems with their landlords.

Last August, Birmingham resident Stephen Tyler recalled how housing benefit discrimination had forced him to sleep in his car.

The wheelchair user said: “We have been trying to find accommodation since we were evicted from our last property when we asked for adaptations to be made for wheelchair access.

“I phone anything up to 20 landlords, estate agents, a day and none of them will accept DSS.”

The National Landlords Association (NLA) and Residential Landlord’s Association (RLA) have also said the blanket restrictions should not be used.

Chris Town, Vice Chair of the RLA, said: “We welcome today’s announcement from Zoopla, which comes after extensive campaigning by the RLA.

“Landlords should not refuse someone solely because they are on benefits, and should consider prospective tenants on a case by case basis. But with growing numbers of benefit claimants now reliant on the private rented sector, we need to do more to give tenants and landlords greater confidence in the benefits system.”

He added: “This means building on positive changes already made by the government by giving all tenants the right to choose if they want to have the housing element of Universal Credit paid directly to their landlord; working with bank lenders to remove mortgage terms that prevent landlords renting to benefit claimants as NatWest has already done; and ending the Local Housing Allowance freeze which has meant benefits bear little resemblance to rents.

“We look forward to working constructively with the government to address these issues.”

Charlie Bryant, managing director of Zoopla, added: “We fully support the recommendations of the NLA and the RLA, which oppose blanket bans against tenants in receipt of housing-related benefits, and are pleased to be taking action which clarifies this position.”

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