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Five of England’s biggest letting agents have banned housing benefit tenants

Shelter and the National Housing Federation went undercover to find one in 10 branches had a brand policy not to let to those on benefits

Walk in a branch of England’s five biggest letting agents and you could be refused if you’re on housing benefit, according to an undercover investigation.

Homelessness charity Shelter teamed up with the National Housing Federation (NHF) to send researchers into 149 regional letting agent branches.

And they found that one in 10 branches had a brand policy not to let to prospective tenants on housing benefit, regardless of whether they could stump up the cash to cover rent.

This runs the risk of breaching the Equality Act 2010, which rules that there could be a risk of indirect discrimination against women and people with disabilities.

The worst offender was Haart, with an outright ban on housing benefit tenants in eight out of 25 of their branches. A spokesperson for the agent apologised and insisted that the research had brought to their attention that some areas of their business were “misinformed”.

The only letting agent not to have any bans in place were Hunters, while Bridgfords, Dexters and Fox & Sons with two and Your Move with one fared worse.

Up to half of the branches quizzed told researchers that they had no suitable homes or landlords to let to someone on housing benefit.

Now, Shelter and NHF are calling on the government to build more social housing to bring down the 1.64 million adults who rely on housing benefit to cover expensive private rents.

“This ugly undercurrent of discrimination is wreaking havoc on thousands of people’s search for a home,” said Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter. “‘No DSS’ policies are outdated, and an outrageous example of blatant prejudice.

“Private renting is now so expensive that many people simply can’t get by without some housing benefit – even if they’re working.

“Practices that blindly reject all housing benefit tenants are morally bankrupt, and because they overwhelmingly impact women and people with disabilities, could be unlawful. That’s why we’re urging all landlords and letting agents to get rid of housing benefit bans, and treat people fairly on a case by case basis.”

David Orr, chief executive of NHF, added: “Many housing associations were set up in the 50s and 60s to house people who could find nowhere else to live due to blatant racism from private landlords and letting agents who told them “No Irish, no blacks, no dogs”. Letting agents should be ashamed that discrimination is still happening today in the form of an outright ban on people simply because they depend on housing benefit.”

David Cox, chief executive of letting agents’ body Arla Propertymark, hit back and insisted that landlords and letting agents are not to blame for the situation and called on the government to step in.

“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 said.

“We have called on government time and time again to resolve this problem. But our calls have fallen on deaf ears.”

The government revealed their social housing and private renting plans in last week’s green paper and a spokesperson pointed to that when it comes to achieving their aim of “tackling the stigma in the social housing sector”.

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