Are some of the UK’s largest letting agents breaking discrimination law?
Five of England’s leading letting agents could be actively discriminating 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. One in 10 had a branch policy not to let to anyone on housing benefit, regardless of whether they could afford the rent.
According to Shelter, 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.
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.
Is this unlawful?
The two housing organisations are now urging letting agents and landlords to remove these bans, which they argue are ‘both grossly unfair and likely to be unlawful’.
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 ‘No DSS’ is an outdated and outrageous example of blatant prejudice.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.”