Lettings agents’ representatives have hit back at an accusation of discrimination made against the industry.
A report by Shelter and the National Housing Federation suggests that private landlords tend not to favour prospective tenants who receive housing benefit when given a choice - and in some cases are discriminated against.
In an undercover investigation 149 regional letting agent branches were called by researchers posing as prospective tenants. These branches were from six firms - Bridgfords, Dexters, Fox & Sons, Haart, Hunters, and Your Move.
One in 10 had a branch policy not to let to anyone on housing benefit, regardless of whether they could afford the rent; 48 per cent of branches said they had no suitable homes or landlords willing to let to someone on housing benefit.
The report claimed Haart was the worst offender with eight out of 25 branches having an outright ban on housing benefit tenants. Only Hunters was found to have no such ban in place at any office.
But David Cox, chief executive of ARLA Propertymark, explains that this is a systemic problem with how housing benefit works, not discrimination.
“Rents are paid in advance, whereas housing benefit is paid in arrears, and therefore with such a shortage of rental accommodation, landlords and agents will naturally choose a tenant who can pay the rent when it is due, rather than a tenant who is always a month in arrears” he says.
“We have called on government time and time again to resolve this problem. But our calls have fallen on deaf ears.
“To make the situation worse, many lenders also have a clause in their buy-to-let mortgage agreements which prevent landlords from letting to housing benefit tenants. This situation does not exist because of landlords or letting agents, it is a systemic problem caused by government and the banks.”
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 ‘No DSS’ is an outdated and outrageous example of blatant prejudice.
“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.”
Shelter and the NHF claim that under the Equality Act 2010, letting agents rejecting housing benefit tenants outright could be at risk of breaking the law because of indirect discrimination against women and disabled people.