Hundreds of private renters in England in receipt of benefits are still struggling to secure accommodation despite a landmark ruling saying that landlords are not allowed to discriminate against this group.
A disabled single mother who became homeless after being refused the chance to move into a private rented property because she was on benefits won the landmark court case last month.
It was the first time a court has ruled that the so-called “no DSS” [Department for Social Security] rule operated by many private landlords – thought to have prevented hundreds of thousands of people from renting homes over the years – breached equality laws.
The rule is a reference to the practice used by some landlords to describe the vetting of a class of tenants they regard as unsuitable. The case was brought by the housing charity Shelter.
Polly Neate, the chief executive of Shelter, welcomed the court ruling when it was made, but she told the Guardian that hundreds of people had contacted the housing charity since the ruling raising concerns about the DSS issue.
Neate said: “Hundreds of people have since contacted our services with similar stories and we are still hearing of letting agents and private landlords ignoring the judgment.”
Iffat Saif, a lawyer, who with her husband and two children is in receipt of housing benefit following a recent grant of leave to remain in the UK after fleeing persecution in Pakistan, said she had called 57 landlords and letting agents since the ruling. All either turned her down when she mentioned the word “DSS” or told her she needed to provide a guarantor who would guarantee the tenancy for £50,000.
“We want to work hard here but we have only recently got our leave to remain in the UK and it will take time for us to sort ourselves out,” she said.
After leaving Home Office accommodation in Southall, west London, that was infested with rats and cockroaches the family has moved into an emergency hostel for homeless people where the family of four are crowded into one room.
“I’m so worried about the risk of infection for my children in this place. Large numbers of people are sharing the same bathrooms and toilets and we are very overcrowded in one room. The council told us we should contact landlords and letting agents ourselves to try to find accommodation. I called 57 landlords and when I told them we are DSS they all said no.”
She said the landlords did not seem to be aware of the recent court ruling outlawing discrimination against DSS tenants.
Saif eventually found a guarantor, a contact in the UK she made while working as a lawyer in Pakistan.
“A landlord has finally agreed to rent a property to us so we can at last leave the emergency hostel. But many people in receipt of DSS support do not have access to a guarantor who can offer to support them with £50,000.”
Neate said: “The recent court judgment was an incredibly important step forward, but Shelter has been fighting ‘No DSS’ for nearly two years and will continue to do so until these discriminatory practices are stamped out for good. All landlords and letting agents should know that if they keep acting unlawfully, they could face legal action and hefty fines.”
Jon Hardy, a Bristol member of Acorn, a community-based union of tenants, workers and residents, said: “While it’s welcome news that ‘No DSS’ tenancy bans have been declared unlawful in the recent landmark court ruling, it comes as no surprise to hear that some landlords are still refusing people who receive housing benefits. Everyone deserves a decent home and housing is a right, not an investment.”