Southend landlords refusing to rent to people on benefits

The vast majority of landlords in Southend specify they would rather not let their properties to tenants on housing benefit, according to listings on a popular website.

Despite a court ruling earlier in the year that made it unlawful to blanket ban people on benefits, landlords in Southend on Spare Room still appear to be avoiding tenants on housing benefit.

There are nine properties, excluding house shares, to rent in Southend on Spare Room – but out of those, none are marked as  ‘housing benefit considered’.

Spare Room was displaying a ‘new tenant preferences’ list, which gave the landlord the option to consider whether benefits claimants are considered for tenancy or not.

A spokesperson for Spare Room said: “Some Buy to Let mortgages do still prohibit landlords from renting to people who receive housing benefit, so we’re changing the advertising process so that a specific mortgage clause is the only reason we’ll allow for saying they won’t rent to tenants on benefits.”

Some landlords are prevented from renting to tenants claiming benefits due to the nature of their buy-to-let mortgages.

As a result, Spare Room has now changed its filter – on the eve of this story being published.

Instead of ‘housing benefits considered’, the site now displays an option to ‘hide ads that can’t accept housing benefit (due to mortgage/insurance restrictions)’ which it argues is necessary for these landlords.

People on housing benefit are often referred to by the acronym DSS, which stands for Department for Social Security, the forerunner of the Department for Work and Pensions, which oversees Universal Credit.

In July, a judge at York County Court ruled that blanket ‘No DSS’ rental bans by letting agents are unlawful and discriminatory under the Equality Act.

But because this judgement was from a low-level court it is not a binding rule for other cases. However, charities and campaigners are hoping it will stick.

Polly Neate, Chief Executive of Shelter, said: “July’s historic hearing sends a clear message to landlords and letting agents to drive out these old discriminatory practices for good – or risk legal action.”

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Chief Executive of Shelter, Polly Neate. (Image: Shelter).

If you’re on housing benefits and wanting to privately rent in Southend, you could be out of luck as none of the single occupancy properties available on Spare Room accept tenants in receipt of benefits.

However, the picture looks a little different for people on benefits looking for shared accommodation, with 16 properties out of 250 on the siteconsidering housing benefit tenants. 

The cheapest price of a one-bedroom flat in Southend on Zoopla is £525 while the most expensive comes in at an eye-watering £1,600.

The brunt of renting troubles could hit families the hardest with prices soaring for two-bedroom rental properties. The cheapest in Southend is currently priced at £750 per month and the most expensive two bedroom rental is a staggering £1,625 per month.

With renting becoming increasingly difficult as we navigate the coronavirus pandemic, research by Shelter shows that almost 230,000 private renters in England have fallen into arrears since the pandemic started. 

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The number of people claiming unemployment benefits surged to 2.7 million between March and July, according to the Office for National Statistics.

Meanwhile, the number of people claiming benefits in Southend has risen since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Office for National Statistics data shows 6,860 people were claiming out-of-work benefits in Southend as of April 9, compared with 4,425 just a month earlier.

In May the government extended the ban on evicting tenants however this is scheduled to end in just over three weeks.

Shelter has revealed that despite the evictions ban, more than 170,000 private tenants have already been threatened with eviction by their landlord or letting agent.

Billy Harding, Research and Policy Officer at Centrepoint (charity for young homeless people) said: “Since the start of the pandemic, we have seen a 50% increase in the number of young people contacting our helpline seeking housing support.

“The ‘No DSS’ court ruling is a step in the right direction- tenants have the power to challenge landlords and letting agents if they are acting unlawfully and contrary to the equality act.

He added: “Platforms shouldn’t have [housing benefits] filters- people should be assessed on an individual basis and not just the way they receive their rent.”

If you are having difficulty securing a rental property due to receiving benefits, you can contact Shelter England who offer advice and support on what to do next. 

A template letter can also be found on Shelter’s website, alongside free and expert housing advice.

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