Analysis finds minority of Islington properties on rental site accept benefit claimants

Ronalds Road - a typical Islington street. Picture: Polly Hancock

Ronalds Road - a typical Islington street. Picture: Polly Hancock - Credit: Archant

Analysis has found more than 80 per cent of properties on a rental site are listed as off limits to housing benefit claimants, despite a judge ruling such policies discriminatory.

On August 5, BBC Shared Data Unit took a snapshot of the number of listings on OpenRent around the country, and have analysed how many accepted applications from so-called ‘DSS’ people.

This is short for Department of Social Security, now the Department for Work and Pensions, and is used to describe people claiming Universal Credit.

It found of 9,000 listings around the country, 76pc were not marketed as DSS Income Accepted.

Of 52 listings in Islington, only nine clicked the DSS Income Accepted option and 83pc did not.

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There were 17 which allowed smokers and 15 which allowed pets.

This is despite a landmark case at York County Court in July which saw District Judge Victoria Elizabeth Mark rule that blanket bans on people receiving housing benefit were discriminatory and against the Equality Act 2010.

READ MORE: Islington Universal Credit claimants twice as likely to be in rent arrears as people on housing benefitPolly Neate, chief executive of homelessness charity Shelter, said: “No DSS discrimination is outdated, grossly unfair – and it’s unlawful under the Equality Act, as our recent landmark legal victory confirms.

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“This is because it overwhelmingly prevents women and disabled people, who are more likely to need support paying their rent, from finding a safe home.

“Last month’s ruling should be a wake-up call for landlords and letting agents to clean up their act and treat all renters equally.”

However, OpenRent stressed there are a number of factors which contribute to a landlord being unable to accept someone receiving benefits, such as clauses in mortgage contracts and issues with failing affordability checks with referencing agencies.

It said the methodology used by the BBC Shared Data Unit was inaccurate because properties marked as DSS Income Accepted are let faster than properties without and a snapshot may therefore underreport the numbers.

OpenRent said after it had been approached by Shelter to remove its DSS Income Accepted option from the website, it conducted a survey of 400 tenants on housing benefit and found 90pc liked the terminology because it aids searching for a suitable home.

Adam Hyslop, founder at OpenRent, said: “OpenRent does not ban any group of tenants, and in the past year we have let over 25,000 properties where applications from benefit claimants were explicitly welcomed by the landlord.

“This is more than any other agent in the UK. We also know that many local authorities’ housing teams actively refer claimants to OpenRent as a good place to find suitable properties.

“As such, to characterise us as somehow hostile to benefit claimants - or worse, lumping us in with agents who have a blanket ban on benefit claimants - is simply unfair and inaccurate.

“It also ignores the significant work and effort we put into changing perceptions among landlords and ensuring they consider the widest range of tenants as possible for their properties, which is in everyone’s interest.”

John Stewart, deputy director for policy and research at The National Residential Landlords Association, said not accepting benefit claimants for rental properties was “likely to become more of an issue if the unemployment rates rise at the end of the furlough scheme”.

The government furlough initiative - the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme - is due to stop at the end of October.

John said: “We’ve discovered recently how people’s circumstances can change at the drop of a hat.

“What landlords think might be a sound, sensible business decision can soon not be.”

A spokesperson for the Equality and Human Right Commission said: “These figures show that there is still some way to go before we can truly end the discrimination against women and disabled people who claim benefits.

“The recent ruling will go a long way to ensure all renters’ rights are equal, regardless of their life situation or background.”

The Equality Act 2010 outlaws any discrimination based on protected characteristics, which includes age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage, civil partnership, pregnancy, maternity, race, religion, belief, sex or sexual orientation.

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