Campaigning charity Shelter, which has been outspoken in its criticism of many letting agents in recent years, has now produced a guide aimed at the industry.
The focus of the guide is to prevent discrimination against housing benefit or Universal Credit recipients in the light of the spate of ‘No DSS’ messages on some private rental accommodation advertisements in the past two years.
Claims of the use of ‘No DSS’ or similar messages on advertisements have dropped off almost entirely; in 2019 the main portals all asked agents to ensure such messages were not contained on listings.
However, in its intro the Shelter guide says: “We'll show you what to do to make sure your business does not discriminate against people who receive benefits. ‘No DSS’ bans make it difficult for tenants receiving benefits to find a home – even if they can afford the rent. Tenants say bans make them feel like second-class citizens, and some people even become homeless as a result.”
Elsewhere in the guide agents are told that, in relation to tenants, “Don’t make assumptions about what they can afford” and later it claims: “Our legal view, backed by an independent law firm, is that it is against the law for letting agents and landlords to have blanket bans on letting to tenants who receive benefits.”
On references the guide says: “Character reference requests will discriminate against tenants who receive benefits if they always require an employer reference. You may find that the tenant can provide a reference from someone else, such as a previous landlord. Or they may have someone who a guarantor.”
In the staff training section, Shelter recommends that each agency branch should have at least one person who is an expert on benefits.
The guide then says: “Staff should not make assumptions about people who receive benefits – 22 per cent of all private tenants receive housing benefit, and almost half are in work”; Shelter notes that the percentage it quotes is taken from the 2016-17 English Housing Survey.
You can see the guide for yourself here.