Photo Credit: Lars Plougmann/Flickr

The UK Government has given its strongest indication yet that private landlords and letting agents could soon be banned from discriminating against people in receipt of social security benefits.

Housing Minister Heather Wheeler has announced that the Government intends to “look at letting adverts which potentially discriminate against would-be tenants on Housing Benefit”, whilst also making clear that this kind of direct discrimination “must end”.

A recent report found that at least one in ten landlords refuse to rent properties to people on Housing Benefit, or the equivalent housing support under Universal Credit.

Council housing dwarfed by London’s financial district. Photo: Oxfam.

The report from the National Housing Federation (NHF) and the homelessness charity Shelter discovered 8,710 adverts for rental properties that contain the phrase ‘no DSS’ or ‘no Housing Benefit’, promting calls for the Government to take urgent action due to growing concerns that homeless people and low-income households are struggling to find homes.

According to the Government, around half of landlords would not be willing to let to tenants on Housing Benefit, despite figures showing that 889,000 private rental tenants currently receive housing benefit to help pay their rent.

Today’s announcement forms part of the Government’s £100 million ‘rough-sleeping strategy’, which includes a £19.5 million programme to help thousands of people who are homeless, or at risk of becoming homeless, to secure their own home.

Minister for Housing and Homelessness Heather Wheeler MP said:” I want everyone to have the security, dignity and opportunities they need to build a better life – at the heart of which is ensuring everyone can find a safe and secure home to call their own.

“This funding will make a huge difference in opening up the private rented sector to people who need it and give them the chance to rebuild their lives.

“I will also be meeting key stakeholders to tackle the practice of ‘No DSS’, to underline the need for immediate change.”

Minister for Family Support, Housing and Child Maintenance, Justin Tomlinson said: “Everyone should have the same opportunity when looking for a home, regardless of whether they are in receipt of benefits.

“With Universal Credit, payments can be paid directly to the landlord, and we continue to listen to feedback and work with landlords to improve the system.”

Responding to the announcement, Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter said: “It’s good the Government has recognised the burning injustice of ‘No DSS’ and the wall of prejudice that stops hundreds of thousands of renters from even getting a foot in the door.

“We hear from families – who’ve always paid their rent – at their wits’ end after being repeatedly shut out just because they need some housing benefit.”

She continued: “I hope this announcement will send a powerful message to those letting agents, lenders and landlords who still think discriminatory bans are acceptable – that these outdated practices must end.

“We look forward to working with the Government to make sure that from now on people are treated fairly on a case-by-case basis.”

Kate Henderson, Chief Executive at the National Housing Federation, added: “It’s good news the government has heard our calls for urgent action to clamp down on private landlords, letting agents, mortgage lenders and property websites that are discriminating against people on housing benefit.

“We also very much welcome NatWest’s decision to scrap their ‘no benefits’ policy. Other mortgage lenders and businesses must now follow suit.

“These announcements could not come soon enough as many housing associations know that this disgraceful practice is forcing increasing numbers in to homelessness through no fault of their own.

“It is increasingly impossible for shelters and hostels to help residents move in to their own home, as often no privately rented homes will house people on benefits, and there are simply not enough social homes available.

“Banning these potentially unlawful and discriminatory adverts is only the first step. We need to make sure the discrimination itself ends altogether. We look forward to hearing more details about the government’s plans.”