The agency chain named as having the most branches banning benefits tenants has said that this is not company policy – while landlords said that there has been a huge rise in the number of benefits tenants going into arrears, blaming not agents but the system itself.
Yesterday, EYE reported on research by lobbying organisation Shelter and social landlords trade body the National Housing Federation.
The research used mystery shoppers posing as tenants on benefits who rang 149 branches of well-known agents – Bridgfords, Dexters, Fox & Sons, Your Move, Hunters and haart.
It named haart as the worst offender, saying there was a ban on housing benefit tenants in eight out of 25 haart branches.
However a spokesperson for haart said: “It is not our policy to refuse housing benefit tenants – anyone who passes referencing checks is able to rent properties listed with our branches.
“We do regularly arrange tenancies for those claiming housing benefits and currently have 112 tenancies where this is the case.
“This research has brought to light that some of our branches are misinformed and we are working to ensure that this policy is being followed across our network.
“We are sorry for any occasion where this has not been the case.”
The issue of discrimination against tenants on benefit was aired on C4 News yesterday evening and also on BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire Show, where tenant Stephen Tyler, a wheelchair user, said he had had to sleep in his car.
He said: “We have been trying to find accommodation since we were evicted from our last property when we asked for adaptations to be made for wheelchair access.
“I phone anything up to 20 landlords, estate agents, a day and none of them will accept DSS.”
He said he had also approached his council as well as housing associations, but “no one wants to help at all”.
Yesterday Isobel Thomson, CEO of the National Approved Letting Scheme, said: “The majority of lettings and management agents are professionals who are skilled at managing housing benefit and universal credit tenancies, dealing with applicants on a case by case basis.
“Many agents help prospective and existing tenants obtain access to the benefits they are entitled to.
“An assumption that there is widespread discrimination, particularly of women and disabled people on benefits, is emotive conjecture and fails to paint an accurate picture of the sector.
“In some areas tenants on benefits form agents’ client base.
“Vilification of letting agents and landlords will not resolve housing problems where the provision of sufficient social housing is at the heart of the matter.
“The complexity of the benefits system and delays in payment add to the difficulties.
“Shouldn’t we be working together to come up with solutions which could solve the ills of the sector to ensure that no vulnerable tenants are left behind, rather than castigating one section of it?”
Meanwhile the Residential Landlords Association said six out of ten landlords are experiencing tenants on benefits going into arrears.
David Smith, RLA policy director, said: “The benefits system makes it inherently challenging for claimants to pay their rent in full and on time as it pays in arrears, compared to rents which are paid in advance.
“Our most recent member survey shows a huge increase in the number of landlords experiencing tenants on Universal Credit going into arrears, rising from 27% in 2016 to 61% now.
“At a time of huge demand for private rented housing, it is not surprising that landlords would rather choose a tenant who can pay the rent when it is due.
“Another factor is that almost a quarter of landlords responding to our survey said they had mortgage conditions blocking them from letting to tenants on benefits.
“The Government should ensure that the benefits system does not place claimants in a worse position than others looking to rent a home.”