The campaign to end DSS discrimination against private rental sector tenants

The campaign to end DSS discrimination against private rental sector tenants

Published on 6th March 2019

The campaign to end DSS discrimination against private rental sector tenants

Anyone renting a property in recent years will be familiar with the common sight of rental adverts that say ‘no DSS’, ‘no housing benefit’ or ‘professionals only’. Momentum is building in the campaign to end ‘DSS’ discrimination against private rental sector tenants in receipt of housing benefits.

The Government has recently revealed that they will be attempting to clamp down on any apparent bias from agents and landlords, against any tenants currently receiving benefits. The first meeting between government officials and bodies including the Association of Residential Letting Agents and the major landlord trade organisations, to discuss the issue, is believed to be planned for later this month. “Ministers will meet leading industry representatives, including mortgage providers, landlord associations, tenant groups, and property websites to clamp down on blanket exclusions in adverts – with a view to stopping them altogether,” says the statement from the MHCLG bans.

So-called ‘no DSS’ policies are where a landlord or letting agent ban a tenant from renting a property for no reason other than the client receiving benefits. The “DSS” is the old name for the Department of Social Security. This does not exist anymore, yet the old abbreviation is still often used informally. Advertisements for rented accommodation often describe prospective tenants, who would be paying their rent by means of Housing Benefit, as ‘DSS’ tenants.

When a landlord or letting agent says ‘No DSS’ on a property it means people receiving benefits are not welcome there. Out of 4.5m households living in private rental accommodation, 889,000 receive housing benefit to help pay their rent. However, the MHCLG says latest figures show around half of the landlords said they would not be willing to let to tenants on Housing Benefit – ruling out thousands of vulnerable people and families. This is an obvious manifestation of widespread culture, to treat tenants on housing benefit as damaged goods, irrespective of their individual circumstances and their ability to pay the rent.

The Residential Landlords Association has been a long-standing critic of the 60 per cent or so of buy to let lenders who ban landlords from renting to tenants on benefits. “Landlords should not refuse someone solely because they are on benefits and should consider prospective tenants on a case by case basis,” says policy manage John Stewart, “but with growing numbers of benefit claimants now reliant on the private rented sector we need to do more to give tenants and landlords greater confidence in the benefits system”. The government says it wants “an immediate change” in the policy of some letting agents and landlords who advertise ‘No DSS’ when renting out private flats and houses. A statement from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government says housing minister Heather Wheeler has made it clear that letting adverts which potentially discriminate against would-be tenants on Housing Benefit “should end.”

Now one of the largest buy to let lenders, NatWest, has responded with a bid to relax its lending policy to buy to let investors who house benefit tenants. NatWest will begin to make changes that will affect new and existing landlords with fewer than 10 properties. The policy change will apply with immediate effect to both new and existing customers and will apply to NatWest, Royal Bank of Scotland and Ulster Bank. NatWest’s decision will make it easier for landlords to rent to benefit claimants and agree on long term tenancies where suitable. The bank has decided to extend the maximum length of time of assured shorthold tenancy from 12 months to 36 months, which allows landlords to offer tenants the security of longer tenancies.

Speaking about the changes, Ian McLaughlin, managing director of Home Buying & Ownership at NatWest, says: “I am pleased that we are introducing these changes and extending our policy to support smaller landlords in this segment of the market. We would like to thank Shelter and the Residential Landlords Association for their thoughtful and thorough contributions to the review, to help us better understand the market in this area, and bring our policies in line with those in our commercial segment.”

Out of 86,000 property ads assessed on property website Zoopla, 8,710 listed “no DSS” in their advert description, reported housing charity Shelter and the National Housing Federation. Minister for Family Support, Housing and Child Maintenance, Justin Tomlinson says: “Everyone should have the same opportunity when looking for a home, regardless of whether they are in receipt of benefits. “With Universal Credit, payments can be paid directly to the landlord, and we continue to listen to feedback and work with landlords to improve the system.” Landlords can already receive rent from tenants on Housing Benefit and Universal Credit – meaning payments can be paid directly into their accounts. This helps strengthen the choices and opportunities available for those on benefits to secure the homes they and their families need.

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