Both Rightmove and Zoopla are issuing guidance that the phrase ‘no benefits tenants’ should not be used in blanket advertisements by agents.
Zoopla posted advice to agents yesterday which said: “You may be aware of a recent campaign from the National Housing Federation and Shelter about the advertising of rental listings which explicitly discriminate against people who rely on housing benefit.
“Zoopla supports the recommendations of the National Landlords Association (NLA) and the Residential Landlords Association (RLA) which have advocated that landlords do not impose blanket bans against tenants on benefits.
“We’re aware of a small number of rental listings on portal websites that fit into this category, and recommend that all our member agents follow the NLA and RLA guidance.”
The RLA says that decisions on whether benefits tenants can be accepted should be taken on a case by case basis.
Yesterday evening, Rightmove went further, telling EYE: “As per the RLA’s guidance, agents should not impose blanket bans against tenants on benefits.
“We realise that some landlords are subject to restrictions, including from their mortgage lenders, that mean they are unable to rent to a tenant claiming benefits.
“Where this is the case agents should explain this to prospective tenants and try to help them find suitable accommodation.”
The advice from Rightmove and Zoopla comes in the absence – so far – of any official and unequivocal government guidance as to whether banning tenants on benefits breaches discrimination law.
A parliamentary briefing paper published in April this year said that “refusing to let to benefit claimants is unlikely to amount to direct discrimination” because the receipt of benefits is not a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010. However, it could be indirect discrimination. https://researchbriefings.parliament.uk/ResearchBriefing/Summary/SN07008
However, Shelter is expected to bring a legal challenge.
Meanwhile, Universal Credit has come under renewed fire following Monday night’s Panorama programme which revealed the extent of rent arrears as a result of changes to the benefits system.
Under the old system, housing allowance was paid direct to councils or private landlords.
Now the housing element of Universal Credit is made direct to claimants.
Panorama said that where Universal Credit tenants are in rent arrears, the average sum owed is now £663, compared with the previous £263.
The RLA has claimed that 61% of private landlords with tenants on Universal Credit have seen them go into arrears in the last year.
Paul Shamplina, founder of eviction firm Landlord Action, said: “It’s a deal breaker for landlords and yet the councils don’t have enough houses to house homeless people.
“We saw on Panorama that in the last year Flintshire Council alone has seen an 85% reduction in the number of private landlords on their books willing to rent to Universal Credit tenants.
“When you roll that out across the rest of the country you can see why we have such a desperate housing shortage.
“The system used to benefit tenants, by providing more accommodation, as well as landlords, who were guaranteed timely rent with no void periods. Now it benefits no one.”
He said: “Over the next few years, thousands more families will move across to Universal Credit.
“Unless changes are made now, housing stock will decrease further, and homelessness will increase.
“At present, direct payments to landlords are only considered in certain crisis situations. This needs to change, and tenants and landlords need the option to have the housing element paid direct to the landlord.”
Private landlord Mick Roberts – who has always let to tenants on benefits – has had to reconsider his policy.
He said: “I have loved letting to housing benefit tenants over the years and formed great relationships with many of my tenants, but I’m sad to say I can no longer do it as a direct result of Universal Credit.
“As an example, I have four tenants in Nottingham in receipt of housing benefit who have rented from me for over 16 years. They have NEVER had arrears.
“They have all been moved to Universal Credit, and now they are all in arrears. That’s a 100% failure rate.”
He added: “Universal Credit has to be applied for online.
“I have a tenant who doesn’t even know how to go online or have access.
“They are not coming out to see the people at ground level. If they spoke to the tenants that are affected by this, as I have, they would realise.”