Property portals take move to stamp out housing benefit discrimination

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By the end of April two of the biggest property portals in Britain will no longer allow lettings listings that state tenants who receive housing benefits cannot rent an advertised home.

The decision by Rightmove and Zoopla is part of a wider stance being taken to stamp out discrimination where landlords have what is called a ‘No DSS’ policy and refuse to rent to those in receipt of benefits.

The Work and Pensions Committee is currently carrying out an inquiry into discrimination against benefit claimants in the housing sector. It has already written to mortgage lenders, insurers, property agents and property ad sites with questions about how their policies end up treating people who are trying to rent a home and in receipt of a benefit.

It also specifically asked mortgage lenders, whether their buy to let mortgage policy allow landlords to let to tenants receiving housing benefit, or any benefit and whether they are satisfied any restrictions they place would not inadvertently amount to unlawful discrimination against benefit recipients.

On 24 April the committee is hearing evidence from a selection of each group; Natwest and Co-op Banks, Kensington Mortgages, Nationwide building society, Shepherd’s Bush Housing Group, Hunters and Your Move estate agents and OpenRent ad platform in Parliament to give evidence on their policies. The Committee will also hear from a panel of benefit claimants and private landlords.

Last month Zoopla announced changes to end No DSS wording in rental adverts by the end of April and now Rightmove said the term will no longer be permitted from the end of April.

Zoopla said it is amending its terms and conditions to specifically prohibit the inclusion of the term on its website and will also remove the reference from listings uploaded to the website and from search fields in its cloud based software products.

Rightmove has written to all is letting advertisers to tell them about the change in policy and is introducing software that will automatically strip the term from any property details.

Rightmove pointed out that the term No DSS is not accurate anyway as the Department of Social Security became the Department for Work and Pensions in 2001. Rightmove says that if a landlord has a restriction that prevents them from letting to a person receiving benefits, the reason for the restriction should be included in the description of the listing. This could be by using a phrase such as ‘Unfortunately no housing benefit claimants can be considered due to a restriction in the landlord’s mortgage term,’ the portal suggests.

Housing Minister Heather Wheeler has already urged the lettings sector to sort out discrimination against those who receive benefits and warned that if the private rented sector was unwilling to take action then the Government would ‘explore all options to remove this practice’.

According to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, about half of landlords say they would not be willing to let a property to tenants on housing benefit.

‘All tenants who are looking to rent a property deserve the chance to be fully assessed for their suitability and matched to a home that suits both their and the landlord’s circumstances,’ said Charlie Bryant, managing director of Zoopla.

‘We proactively sought the views of our largest lettings focused agents to ensure the measures were undertaken on a collaborative basis and received significant support in respect of our proposed additional measures,’ he added.

Chris Town, vice chair of the Residential Landlords Association, welcomed the move. ‘Landlords should not refuse someone solely because they are on benefits, and should consider prospective tenants on a case by case basis,’ he said.