Two single mothers claim victory over ‘No DSS’ letting agents
The acronym DSS stands for Department for Social Security, a government department that used to be responsible for welfare benefits, but no longer exists. You may have seen the phrase ‘no DSS’ in adverts by letting agents, saying they won’t rent to those relying on benefits.
Speaking to the BBC, Chief Executive of housing charity Shelter Polly Neate said, “Not only is 'No DSS' discrimination, outdated and grossly unfair, it is unlawful under the Equality Act because it overwhelming impacts women and disabled people, who are more likely to need support paying their rent.”
Legal victories from two single mothers has highlighted the issue again recently, with both Emma Loffler and Amanda Staples winning settlements out-of-court against ‘no DSS’ letting agents.
Amanda needed accommodation for her and her three young children following the breakdown of her marriage. She tells the BBC that she came up against a blanket no when ringing around estate agents after she told them she would be on housing benefit.
“The whole thing was so difficult - I was working part time, I've always paid my rent, I had a child-maintenance order, and I ended up on benefits because of the divorce and because I had three children.”
No matter how much money she was willing to pay up-front, the agent repeated that the landlord’s insurance didn’t cover tenants on benefits.
After receiving a letter of complaint that cited another successful case in 2018, the agents still refused to change their mind. In the 2018 case, Rosie Keogh successfully argued that using blanket bans like this indirectly discriminated against women.
Shelter supported both Emma and Amanda as they took the agents to court.
The agents wrote a public letter of apology to Amanda, paid £3,000 compensation and paid £10,000 legal costs. In Emma’s case she received a public letter of apology, £3,500 compensation and £2,500 legal costs.
“The message is clear - letting agents and landlords must not treat potential tenants as second-class citizens simply because they rely on benefits.
“If they continue to blindly discriminate against those receiving housing benefit, they risk legal action and a hefty fine.” Polly Neate from Shelter explains.
Charity YouGov polled 1,900 private landlords in December 2019 and January 2020 and found some shocking results, including 86% thinking ‘No DSS’ was lawful, or were unsure. 29% revealed that they didn’t rent to those receiving housing benefit and were advised not to do so by their letting agent.
The government has been urged by the Residential Landlords Association to align housing benefit with local rent levels, allow tenants the right to choose to have the housing element of their benefit directly paid to their landlord and stop lenders preventing a landlord from renting to benefit claimants as a condition of their buy-to-let mortgage.
If you are affected by this issue and are having difficulty with ‘no DSS’ landlords or letting agents, be sure to keep a note of any communications where you hear/see the ‘no DSS’ messaging. Make sure there are no other reasons they won’t rent to you, show them evidence of previous reliability and get in touch with Shelter for support.