The report ‘End DSS Discrimination’ published by the National Housing Federation and Shelter this week has attracted a strong rebuke from the National Approved Lettings Scheme (NALS).
The report received widespread attention in the media, continuing recent media hostilities towards letting agents and the industry as a whole.
However, NALS chief executive Isobel Thomson released a statement highlighting the majority of lettings and managing agents are professionals who are skilled at managing housing benefit and universal credit tenancies and assess applicants on a case by case basis.
In a side of the discussion rarely covered, Thompson argues that this extends to many agents who 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” Thompson argues.
“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?”
The statement comes after the two charities revealed the results of a mystery shopping exercise, where 149 agency branches run by Bridgfords, Dexters, Fox & Sons, Haart, Hunters, and Your Move were visited:
- One in 10 had a branch policy not to let to anyone on housing benefit, regardless of whether they could afford the rent;
- 48% of branches said they had no suitable homes or landlords willing to let to someone on housing benefit.
- The charities’ report claimed Haart was the worst offender with eight out of 25 branches having an outright ban on housing benefit tenants.
- Hunters was the only organisation found to have no such ban in place at any office.
Responding to the report, David Cox, chief executive of letting agents’ body Arla Propertymark highlights that these issues are a systemic problem with how housing benefit works: “Rents are paid in advance, whereas housing benefit is paid in arrears, and therefore with such a shortage of rental accommodation, landlords and agents will naturally choose a tenant who can pay the rent when it is due, rather than a tenant who is always a month in arrears.
He added: “To make the situation worse, many lenders also have a clause in their buy-to-let mortgage agreements which prevent landlords from letting to housing benefit tenants.
“This situation does not exist because of landlords or letting agents, it is a systemic problem caused by government and the banks.”
You can read the full Shelter report here