Shelter has launched a petition naming seven specific agents – Bridgfords, Dexters, Fox & Sons, haart, Hunters, Ludlow Thompson and Your Move – for allegedly discriminating against tenants on benefits.
But the agents have hit back strongly, explaining their position.
In its latest push, Shelter is asking its supporters to sign the petition in an attempt to stop the alleged discrimination.
Shelter claims in an email: “Some of the biggest letting agents in the country are actively discriminating against private renters.
“One in three renters receiving housing benefit are locked out of homes they could otherwise afford, pushing them closer to homelessness this Christmas.
“But because of the campaigning by thousands of our supporters like you, we were able to get Ludlow Thompson – the worst offender – to take steps to end discrimination of renters on housing benefit.
“However, Ludlow isn’t the only culprit.
“Housing benefit discrimination is widespread across the industry.”
Shelter says: “If enough of us stand up for what’s right by telling these agents that they can’t get away with discrimination any more, they will have to change their behaviour.
“It will also send a signal to other agents that discrimination is unacceptable.”
By yesterday evening, some 9,000 people had signed the petition.
London firm ludlowthompson has told EYE that it has not made any changes to its policy, as it does not discriminate against tenants on benefits.
A spokesperson for Hunters said it was taken aback and appalled, having made its position very clear to Shelter.
The spokesperson said: “We do not have a company policy not to let property to tenants receiving housing benefits.”
In a letter to Shelter seen by EYE, Hunters CEO Glynis Frew says: “At Hunters we do not discriminate against benefit tenants, but neither can we ignore any banks that insist, as a condition of the buy-to-let loan, that the landlord must not let to tenants on benefits. This issue is well reported.
“Attempts to circumvent a bank and its loan conditions could have extremely serious consequences for tenant and landlord alike.”
Jeff Doble, who heads up Dexters, has also been robust in his response to Shelter.
He said: “Dexters has no policy of avoiding such tenants and nor do we place adverts restricting applicants.”
However, he went on to explain: “You ask in your letter that we stop advising landlords not to let to tenants claiming housing benefit and that we train our staff accordingly.
“Unfortunately that does not necessarily represent good advice to landlords.
“Where there are tenants with guarantees on the rent, then it would be against our best practice and indeed poor advice, to recommend many housing benefit tenants.
“The reason for this is that statistically there is significantly more risk that tenants will stop paying the rent for a multitude of reasons but principally because they receive the housing benefit money and often run into financial difficulties or changes in circumstances.
“Compounding this problem is the fact that local authorities routinely advise tenants who run into financial problems, to deliberately cease paying rent and wait to be evicted, in order that they qualify for emergency housing by the local authority.
“These situations can take many months to resolve and a great deal of cost. A landlord can lose up to six months’ rent, and for landlords who now have greater costs and indeed many who have significant borrowing costs, this could be very damaging for them financially.
“As such, unless a landlord has already priced this into their business model, it’s most unlikely that a landlord could be recommended to take housing benefit tenants over and above another tenant unless there were comparable guarantees behind the tenant to pay the rent.
“The only solutions to this problem are to pay rents directly to the landlord and also to cease local authorities advising tenants to withhold rent and wait to be evicted.”
The link to the Shelter petition is below. Beneath that is the request to supporters asking them to back it.