The end of discriminatory ‘No DSS’ clauses in rental contracts?

We have seen the topic of ‘No DSS’ discrimination gain significant traction over the last couple of years, with the largest portals removing ‘No DSS’ advertisements from their sites.

This was a welcome step forward but it is clear that this is an issue which will continue to run with contrasting views from landlords, agents and tenant groups.

At the recent TPO Consumer Forum, Shelter discussed the issue with other forum members which included the NRLA.

What was apparent from that discussion and from the comments made in the trade press is that, generally, no-one wants to discriminate, but that landlords do have concerns about how the Universal Credit/Housing Benefit system works (essentially, the lack of direct payments), problems in the process for evicting tenants who breach the terms of their tenancy agreements and, in some cases, clauses within mortgage or insurance policies that prevent letting to ‘DSS’ tenants.

In contrast, Shelter’s recent research shows that ‘No DSS’ policies put women and those with disabilities at a particular disadvantage because they are more likely to be in receipt of housing benefit, and therefore disproportionately affected by blanket “No DSS” policies.

This was evidenced in a case this week, where tenant, Rosie Keogh, had excellent references from previous landlords, a professional guarantor and the ability to pay up to six months’ rent in advance, should it have been requested.

However, she was refused a tenancy based on the agent’s long-standing ‘No DSS’ policy which they claimed prevented them from letting property to tenants in receipt of housing benefit.

It appears that, in this case at least, discrimination occurred because of the perception of the benefits system Ms Keogh found herself in.

However, a landmark ruling by District Judge Victoria Elizabeth Mark at York County Court has judged housing benefit discrimination as unlawful and in breach of the Equality Act.

This case sends a clear warning to landlords and letting agents that rejecting tenancy applications solely on the grounds that the applicant is in receipt of housing benefit is unlawfully indirectly discriminatory and could put them at risk of legal action.

It also suggests that clauses within mortgage and insurance policies that exclude ‘DSS’ tenants could be challenged and are potentially unenforceable.

While mortgage policies and benefit systems will go on being debated, the immediate and significant concern is that the COVID-19 pandemic has forced millions of people to apply for Universal Credit, many of whom will have been tenants for many years.

If agents and landlords were to apply ‘No DSS’ rules to all tenancies, there is the potential of a significant rise in people facing homelessness.

However, I am absolutely sure that neither tenants, landlords nor agents want this situation to occur.

In fact, I would suggest that because of this unprecedented situation there is a real opportunity right now for all sides to come together to work through these problems to find a solution which ends ‘DSS’ discrimination while providing landlords and agents with the confidence that rent will be paid and mortgage and insurance policies allow them to accept whichever tenant they choose.

I also have little doubt that we will return to this issue at the next TPO Consumer and Industry Forums.

In the meantime, I would reiterate the comments made in a previous Eye article of 5 March [see below] and remind letting agents of their general obligations against discrimination as stated in 1e and 1f of TPO’s Codes of Practice for Letting Agents:

1e. You must treat consumers equally regardless of their race, religion or belief, sex, sexual orientation, gender recognition, disability, pregnancy or maternity, or nationality. Unlawful discrimination includes giving less favourable treatment because someone is perceived to have one of these personal characteristics or because they are associated with a person with such a characteristic.

1f. You should take special care when dealing with consumers who might be disadvantaged because of factors such as their age, infirmity, lack of knowledge, lack of linguistic or numeracy ability, economic circumstances, bereavement or do not speak English as a first language

I would also strongly advise agents that where they are informed by landlords that their mortgage lenders / insurance providers specifically exclude tenants in receipt of Housing Benefit, they obtain written evidence that this is the case and provide a clear explanation to prospective tenants on an individual basis.


Property Ombudsman renews warnings to agents about ‘No DSS’ adverts after tenants’ victories


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  1. jeremy1960

    Just one comment, I could add more but….

    We seem to be getting more enquiries from people claiming all sorts of assistance from government who seem able to offer 6 months rent up front. If they are able to save whilst claiming, then surely the benefits system is wrong? What incentive is there to go out and earn if you can stay at home, get paid and save money?

    Point in fact, a relative, neither adults work, have 2 kids, claim everything and their holiday is booked for next year,  3 weeks in Disneyland Florida! Their rent and council tax paid by you and me!

    1. Ding Dong

      same here JC…

    2. CountryLass

      Exactly, I know of a couple (rented to them actually!) who get around £40k a year in benefits!

  2. frostieclaret87

    Better tell the mortgage companies then as many prohibit renting to non employed persons.

  3. JamesB

    I’m sure most landlords will give the tenants circumstances consideration quoted with rent in advance and a guarantor .. sadly that’s 1%, most have no guarantor, no reference, no bond, need the landlord to wait for the benefits in the hope it will arrive, and hope no clawbacks later  .. sorry but nobody is taking them risks.  Say no dss all they like but those tenants are getting declined for another reason now.  That’s not discrimination it’s protecting your investment and choosing the right tenant

    1. Will2

      It is called risk assessment

  4. Ding Dong

    1e is wrong, you have to treat nationalities differently, its called right to rent

  5. Keith Edwards

    Seen that for years, after working for others, I ran my own letting agency from 1990-2008 and got fed up with going on inspections, expecting to see a non working single mother & children on benefits, only to be greeted by the boyfriend who “I don’t live here” always seemed to be there playing on the Xbox. They all had the latest mobile phones, flat screen tv’s in lounge & bedrooms, Wii with all accessories, multiple computers etc, etc. Of course they always had to go abroad on holidays because they needed one. To them I was the one who was “lucky” because I had a nice car (leased of course)! Yes, I was lucky, lucky that for four years I worked 7 days per week, lucky that when I remarried I took the day off, lucky that we didn’t have a honeymoon, lucky that I had an old mobile phone, never had a flat screen tv etc. The main thing I discovered was that unlike those tenants, but like most agents, the harder I worked, the luckier I seemed to get!

    1. SoldPal90

      Give it a rest!

    2. Woodhen

      I can do better than that one of my tenants has BMW X5 with personalised number plate and another with horses for her 5 children which means she must stay on a farm and have a people carrier

  6. CountryLass

    We have always put it as DSS considered. Whenever I have had a Landlord say “no benefits” I have pointed out that a couple of years ago, that would have ruled me out of renting their property! My other half lost his job, and my income wasn’t enough to support us and the kids, so whilst he was taking whatever temporary work he could whilst searching, I increased my hours and days now he could take on most of the childcare, and we applied for tax-credits. Those are classed as a benefit, so technically they would have ruled me out!


    As long as someone can pay the rent, and in the case of UC has a guarantor due to the issues, I am happy to reference them and recommend them to a Landlord if they check out.

    1. Will2

      Well done you but who pays for referencing if your tenant has hidden history or something you did not ask on the application? Landlord now cannot charge referencing, enhanced deposits on pets etc. All these risks are put on landlords so it is not surprising they are being more and more discerning who they will rent to. Shelter and the Government just want to control you and your investment whilst they grab public money to do so. And the government don’t even want to tax private landlords fairly whilst helping companys. The idiot conservatives have lost it. And yes labour and liberals are just as bad or even worse.  I get it is is tough on some people but life is tough like landlords paying council tax on property held empty because of a virus – council taxing something whilst you can not get an income and these cretins don’t see it. 

  7. DASH94

    The headline of this piece is about no DSS being put in the contract not the advert.

    Does anyone have a contract that states no DSS?  We don’t.

    If a tenant’s circumstances change whilst they’re in residence, then you take the rent from whatever source it comes.

    As for the advertising – most have stopped putting ‘No DSS’ on ads anyway, but that’s not going to make certain tenants anymore attractive to agents/landlords.  Ultimately while we’re able to select which tenants are accepted based on experience and referencing, nothing will change.

    It comes up everytime this is mentioned, but I say again, not all DSS tenants are a problem by a very long way.  But most problem tenants are long term DSS – that’s a verifiable fact for me

  8. Woodentop

    Why would you put ‘NO DSS’ in a contract!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  
    The landlord has a legal entitlement to who they wish to have in their property. This is not the social housing sector, it is the private sector. If landlords wish to take on social housing tenants, then that is down to them. It is a  very simple matter for landlords to accept who they want and the fiasco created by Generation Rent and Shelter is more political mumbo jumbo landlord bashing, and they are biting the hand that could feed them with accommodation!  
    Next we shall be told we can’t reference a tenant or allowed to have guarantors!!! The issue has been that ‘No DSS’ should not appear in an advert as it discriminates the possibility that the social tenant that are good not getting a chance before enquiries are made.  
    That is the key, discrimination before enquiries are made was the basis of the court ruling.  
    All you need to do if you are risk concerned over a tenant and their ability to pay … and perfectly acceptable … in your adverts nothing to stop you asking for ‘tenants criteria to have guaranteed income to prove affordability’ as a matter of YOUR referencing and risk assessment conditions and due diligence. Just as you do to get a loan.


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