Two prospective renters have won individual out of court settlements from letting agents in ‘No DSS’ cases.
Amanda Staples and Emma Loffler, both single mothers, claimed indirect discrimination and were backed by Shelter. Neither of the agents has been named.
The latest BBC Radio 4’s Money Box programme has looked at the issue of ‘No DSS’, including these cases.
Staples, 36, was looking for somewhere to rent after her marriage broke down.
She said: “I kept ringing around estate agents and when I said I would be a housing benefit [claimant] it was a blanket ‘no’.”
She offered to pay first six months and then 12 months rent upfront after an offer of a loan from her father, but said that the letting agent insisted that the landlord’s insurance did not cover tenants on benefit.
She said: “After a while, talking to this one particular estate agent, I just said: ‘Nothing I say is going to make any difference is it?’ And he said, ‘No’.”
With Shelter backing her legal action, the letting agent ultimately agreed to write a public letter of apology and to pay £3,000 compensation and the £10,000 legal costs.
In the other case, Loffler was issued with a public letter of apology, paid £3,500 compensation and given £2,500 towards legal costs.
Shelter chief executive Polly Neate said: “The message is clear – letting agents and landlords must not treat potential tenants as second-class citizens simply because they rely on benefits.
“If they continue to blindly discriminate against those receiving housing benefit, they risk legal action and a hefty fine.
“Not only is ‘No DSS’ discrimination outdated and grossly unfair, it is unlawful under the Equality Act because it overwhelming impacts women and disabled people, who are more likely to need support paying their rent.”
Neate added that she might not be able to afford to shop in Waitrose, but Waitrose did not put up notices banning her.
In an earlier case in 2018, Shelter backed single mother Rosie Keogh, who successfully argued that blanket bans on ‘DSS’ tenants indirectly discriminated against women and disabled people, because they are most likely to be on benefits.
It was this case that was cited by both Staples and Loffler.
The Money Box programme on ‘No DSS’ also talked to a tenant, Emily, looking for somewhere new to rent who said that one agent refused even to take her details because she was on benefits, despite a 100% rent payment record over nine years.
She said of her current situation: “I just can’t get anywhere.”
The programme, which also looked at lenders’ and insurers’ clauses banning landlords from taking on benefits tenants, can be heard below:
Shelter has also released an open letter to rental firm OpenRent alleging discrimination. The letter claims that most of its properties are not available to tenants on benefits, saying that in London only 11% of its properties are available to tenants on housing benefit and that it is a similar story in Manchester and Newcastle.