A new investigation has revealed that landlords are more likely to accept potential tenants with pets rather than those claiming benefits.
BBC analysis of more than 11,000 online listings for spare rooms found that all but a few hundred claimed that benefit claimants were not welcome.
The BBC England data unit looked at listings on SpareRoom, analysing London and 18 other towns and cities throughout England.
Key findings from the report showed:
- Of 11,806 rooms to let, just 2% were open to benefit claimants
- There was not a single vacancy for benefit tenants in Exeter, Leicester, Liverpool, Norwich, Oxford or Reading
- Plymouth had the highest acceptance rate for benefit tenants at 10%
- Twice as many lets in total accepted pets before benefit claimants
This pattern is seen on other house sharing websites.
On OpenRent.co.uk, only 580 out of 3,342 listings said they would accept people on benefits.
These websites specify at ‘No to DSS’ option in flatmate preferences. DSS is the acronym for the Department of Social Security, replaced in 2001by the Department for Work and Pensions.
In all, there are 3,882, 557 housing benefit claimants in England. 1,242,298 reside in privately rented accommodation.
Campaign group Digs, supporting benefit claimants in the sector, said that barring benefit claimants was nothing short of, ‘naked discrimination.’
Spokeswoman for Digs, Heather Kennedy, said: ‘People claim housing benefit for different reasons, including because they’re disabled, caring for others or escaping a violent relationship. And as rents have sky-rocketed and wages stagnate, more and more working people are having to claim benefits to cover their rent.’
‘Landlords and agents have far too much power in relation to ordinary people. The only way to fix this is proper regulation, to protect people from a rental market which the Government have finally accepted is badly broken,’ she added.
Roger Harding, director at homelessness charity Shelter, noted: ‘We all know how difficult and stressful it can be find somewhere to live. But, for the many renters who rely on local housing allowance to top up their income in order to meet the rent, finding somewhere to live is almost impossible.’
The National Landlords Association argues that cuts to welfare benefits payments across England means that these, ‘no longer cover the rent.’
Since 2002, the private rental sector has doubled in size, while social housing has fallen. Landlords are facing difficulty in getting mortgages and insurance, with some providers reluctant to cover them as they let to tenants in receipt of benefits.
Tenant and landlord lawyer Tessa Shepperson noted: ‘A lot of insurance companies specify the property should not be for DSS, just as many state no asylum seekers or no students. That’s a problem for landlords who need to have insurance.’
‘Many say that DSS tenants are excellent tenants, that they pay on time and look after the property, but there’s nothing they can do without insurance,’ she added.
Richard Lambert, chief executive of the National Landlords Association, said: ‘Most landlords support the construction of social housing as a better investment of Government funds. Not only would this mean more housing available and affordable for those most in need, it would also relieve the pressure on the private sector that creates the breeding ground for the minority of rogues and criminals who get away with providing substandard housing.’
Today, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors said that access to private rented properties was slipping among those on housing benefits. Caps to these benefits were cited by 29% of respondents as the reason why those on lower incomes were being pushed away from the market.
Matt Hutchinson, director of SpareRoom, observed that: ‘It’s a sad fact it can be a real struggle to find places to rent if you rely on benefits. When we’ve surveyed landlords to find out why, the overwhelming response has been issues with rent being paid in full or on time. In the long term the best course of action isn’t to stop discrimination against people receiving benefits, it’s to reverse the decision taken in the 1980s to subsidise people, rather than things.’
‘We spend £27bn a year on Housing Benefit. If we spent that on building homes, rather than helping people afford ever escalating costs, we could solve the housing crisis,’ he concluded.