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'Mystery shopping' allegedly reveals letting agents anti-DSS bias

A campaign group in the north east London borough of Hackney claims to have ‘mystery shopped’ 50 letting agents and has discovered alleged discrimination against tenants who claim housing benefit.

The group, called Digs, says on its website that between December and this month is mystery shopped the 50 agents in Hackney to find out if they had properties that would accept tenants who claim housing benefit. 

“We also asked if they had a company policy on the issue, and whether the use of guarantors would make a difference to landlords who say ‘No DSS’” says the group.

It claims the result shows just one studio flat being available to DSS claimants. 

It states that some agents suggested that their landlords probably didn’t want claimant tenants while others explicitly said it was company policy to not accept DSS recipients. 

“They argue that landlords worry about benefit claimants not paying, or that housing benefit payments taking too long” says the group.

Digs took particular exception to letting agents saying their landlords preferred professional tenants. 

“The thinly-veiled insinuation in such statements is that no one claiming housing benefit could ever be considered a professional. For Hackney’s landlords and agents, ‘DSS’ seems to signify a whole social and moral category of people who are deemed to be undesirable tenants. Underneath their stigma is a desire to bring in wealthier tenants who are willing and able to pay the ever-rising rents” claims the statement on the website.

The group held a protest meeting outside Hackney town hall at the weekend, calling for agents and landlords to accept DSS claimants.

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    We used to deal with DSS tenants on quite a big scale, they made up 80% of our monthly lets.

    We no longer deal with DSS tenants because none of our landlords are willing to deal with the local authority!

    Rental payments are reviewed regularly which means tenants have to chase the council for rent payment meaning the rent is paid late! (Think I can add more "RENT" & "PAYMENTS" to that sentence?)

    We have nothing against tenants claiming housing benefits, we still have over 30 DSS tenants in our properties which we collect rent from the council for and each month, there is someone missing from the rent run!

    We, as an agent, do not discriminate any tenant, be they employed, self employed or claiming benefits. We just cannot find landlords that will accept payments from the local authority, whether full benefits or top up.

  • Formula OneFan

    Nobody wants DSS unfortunately, most but not all are hard work to deal with. Ireland just passed a law to stop landlords discrimination against DSS so I won't be surprised if this comes here too in the future.

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    Get councils to pay direct, work monthly (who accounts on 28 days), pay in advance, first payment on day 1. That would be a start. Why diss the agents ? Its not there fault. Why pick on the man in the middle ?

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    They pick on the man in the middle because we are an easy target.

  • Richard White

    Why would agents be biased against an organisation that pays rent in arrears rather than in advance or pays 4 weekly when the rest of the world has, for decades, worked by calendar month?

    Why would agents be biased against tenants who, statistically, are more likely to damage the property or not pay the rent or sublet?

    Why would agents be biased against the DSS who instigated a cretinous rule that dictated that the benefit would be paid directly to the tenant rather than the landlord?

    Well, I'm baffled for one.


  • Dee London

    We used to deal with DSS Tenants and still have some lovely DSS tenants in properties we let to them a few years back, but after the fiasco we and the Landlord of one of our flats experienced with Tower Hamlets we vowed to never deal with Housing Benefit claimants again. Of course we feel bad for turning them down as the local authorities' incompetence is not their fault, but it is our job to protect the Landlords' interest, something Tower Hamlets clearly does not care about. They insisted on a 24-month tenancy, then reduced the tenants rent payments by several hundred pounds per month, leaving him to pay the shortfall from his JSA - needless to say he could not pay the difference so we had to then approach his Guarantors (his parents, and a very unfortunate ex-girlfriend); their knowledge of housing law in general is abysmal; you get passed from pillar to post by people who all tell you different things, and most of them clearly have very little common sense; they make you jump through all thses hoops, but fail to do their part on time, - or sometimes at all. And worst of all, when the Landlords' eventually want their property back, (bearing in mind some of them are owner-occupiers who went abroad for work for a year and not professional Landlords with a large Portfolio) the Council will advise tenants not to leave, making us - or better said the Landlord - go through costly eviction proceedings. I could go on, but in the end, the blame lies solely with government and local authority policies and not Agents. Pay the agreed amount of rent on time, and in advance directly to the Landord and they may start accepting DSS tenants again, - until then, no Landord we know wants Housing Benefits claimants in their proprties. As it stands, Landlords would rather have a vacant period than let their property to a DSS tenant.

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    It should also be noted that a number of mortgage companies and insurers will not accept DSS tenants, so this is outside of the control of the agent.

  • Kristjan Byfield

    So on reading this article and being a Hackney Letting Agent I reached out to Digs through their website offering an open and frank conversation (in private or public) to discuss the real issues facing Benefits Tenants and why Landlords and Agents alike are left little choice but to decline this part of the market. So that was nearly a month ago and I havent even had so much as an acknowledgement let alone any interaction.
    Until we all stop pointing fingers and blaming others and start talking nothing will change.

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