An investigation has revealed that, of nearly 12,000 rooms available for rent in London and 18 other areas across England, just two per cent were available for people on benefits. The highest rate of acceptance was in Plymouth, with just 15 rooms on offer, which make up 10% of available property.
However, across all of the areas investigated, four per cent of landlords would accept pets. This has been described as ‘naked discrimination’ by the campaign group Digs, which is seeking a change in the law.
Spokeswoman 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 now finally accepted is badly broken.”
Private sector rent is no longer paid direct to landlords, a change made in 2008 which evidence indicates has deterred landlords, who are no longer guaranteed receipt of all or part of the rent of the property.
Sean Tompkins, chief executive of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) said: “Worryingly our figures show that as a result of a combination of economic pressures, more and more vulnerable tenants are being pushed out of the private rented sector”.
Rental caps to housing benefits have been blamed by many as a key reason for lower income people on benefits not being able to afford the property that is currently supplied by existing market forces. With 20% increases projected for private property rental over the next few years, the situation is likely to become worse.
The introduction of a deposit guarantor scheme for those on housing benefit has been suggested, while the Government wants a private rented sector that meets the needs of both tenants and landlords. A spokesman said: “We’re also banning letting fees, driving the worst landlords out of the market, and promoting longer tenancies on new rental properties.”
Director of charity Shelter, Roger Harding, said that the housing allowance cap left “little incentive for landlords to want to rent to people whose pockets are starting to feel the pinch”.
The National Landlords Association said cuts in welfare meant benefit payments in many parts of the country “no longer cover the rent”. They suggest that most landlords consider the construction of social housing a better investment of government funds, making more housing available for those most in need, while relieving the pressure on the private sector.
Matt Hutchinson, director of SpareRoom, has confirmed this, saying that he believes the way forward is to stop discrimination against people and to reverse the 1980s decision to subsidise people, rather than things. He said: “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.”
The Department for Work and Pensions said that the only way a landlord would be aware a tenant was in receipt of support would be if the claimant themselves told them.
Changes have already come into effect in Ireland where, since January 2016, those in receipt of benefits are no longer discriminated against in relation to accommodation or related services. Advertisers, too, are liable for publishing anything which might be construed as discrimination and guilty landlords can be fined up to 15,000 euros.
Life seems stranger than fiction when landlords favour animals over people!