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Social Heart, Business Head, Local Impact

Campaign launches to end 'DSS discrimination'

Shepherds Bush Housing Group is supporting a national campaign launching today to stop landlords and letting agents discriminating against tenants who claim benefits.

Research from the campaign, which is led by the National Housing Federation (NHF) and Shelter, found that 1,437 adverts on Zoopla for different residential properties in London are likely to be breaking the law by stating ‘no DSS’ or ‘no housing benefit’.

High house prices, particularly in west London, have led to rapidly growing numbers of people having to rely on some type of benefits to pay their rent – even if they are working. Indirectly discriminating against these groups is likely to violate the 2010 Equality Act, according to the NHF.

The campaign has been featured in various written and broadcast media including BBC Radio London (2:19:14 – 2:29:38), The Sun and the Daily Mirror.

Michelle Hunte, a private lettings tenant with SBHG, has experienced this kind of discrimination first hand. Her and her family were made homeless in 2016 after their landlord ended their tenancy.

“I couldn’t find anywhere to live so ended up in a horrible BnB with only a single bed for myself, my husband and our one-year old child who is disabled,” she said.

“There was no space for a cot, it was dirty, there were no cooking facilities. There was nowhere for my other children to sleep so they had to stay with different family and friends. I woke up every day at 6am to look for a home. Everywhere I looked online said ‘No DSS’ - Gumtree, Facebook, everywhere.

“I’d spend the rest of the day going to every letting agent in the area. Every single one said we don’t take people on housing benefit. There was no point trying to explain my situation.

“Eventually I found this home through SBHG who were the only landlords who would accept someone on benefits. They really supported me and gave me a long tenancy.

“I’ve never missed a rent payment before and I’ve looked after every home I’ve lived in really well, so this kind of discrimination has to stop.”

 

Our Private Lettings Manager, Sanjeev Shah, has commented further on this campaign and shared his experience of the discrimination he sees first-hand in his role at SBHG:

"Sadly, the release of research this week from the National Housing Federation (NHF) highlighting blatant discrimination against benefit claimants did not come as a surprise to me. In my role as Private Lettings Manager at Shepherds Bush Housing Group, this is something I often see first-hand.

This campaign from NHF and Shelter has highlighted almost 1,500 rental property adverts in London – on one site alone – which explicitly state that they will not rent to benefit claimants. From my experience of talking to tenants, the number of landlords and estate agents who discriminate against this type of tenant, whether written in the advert or not, could in fact be much greater.

The majority of estate agents and landlords won’t accept tenants who are deriving some income from benefits – even if they are working. High-rent prices, especially where we operate in west London, means that we are seeing more and more tenants who are needing to use some form of benefit to afford a place to live. Just this fact alone could lead to them being refused a property, regardless of whether they can afford the rent. This practice is unfair and amounts to blatant discrimination.

The worst example I’ve seen of such discrimination was a working couple from Acton who were living in a garden shed with no heating and hot water after being refused a property by every landlord and estate agent they approached. At Shepherds Bush Housing Group, we don’t discriminate against tenants who derive part of their income from benefits, so I’m pleased to say we were able to support this couple and find them safe, suitable accommodation in the form of a studio flat where they still live today. When you hear of these shocking examples you can’t help but think that, as a society, we should be doing more to help people avoid these situations.

At Shepherds Bush Housing Group, we recently set up an ethical lettings service called 220 Lettings – named after our first ever property at 220 Hammersmith Grove. We are very proud to be bucking the trend in the treatment of benefit claimants seeking accommodation on the private rental market.

Through 220 Lettings, we lease properties from private landlords or Council Temporary Accommodation teams for periods of three to five years. This benefits tenants as it guarantees security of tenure, as long as they meet the conditions of the tenancy. This is compared to some private landlords and estate agents who sign short term contracts and increase rent after six or 12 months, leaving tenants with the decision to either pay rent they can’t afford or start the expensive and exhausting search for a new property.

From my experience, I have seen no difference – in terms of rent payment and anti-social behaviour – between tenants who derive some of their income from benefits and those who do not. I believe this proves that our model works, and I’d urge estate agents and landlords to follow suit and end the discrimination against benefit claimants.

I hope in the future, as housing become an increasingly important issue facing us and future generations, we will see estate agents, landlords and property websites unified in helping rather than hindering people to find a place to live. In my role I get to see the positive impact which comes from having the security of safe and appropriate accommodation. I look forward to helping many more west London residents achieve this, so they can concentrate on flourishing in other areas of their lives."

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