Zoopla is one of the largest property websites in the UK for people looking to rent or buy, and also owns the property portals PrimeLocation and SmartNewHomes. The company has announced that it will now take measures to reduce selection restrictions on people receiving housing benefit across its property website.
The DSS (Department of Social Security) was replaced by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) nearly 20 years ago, in 2001. It has retained its ‘DSS’ name, and benefit claimants can sometimes feel stigmatised against when trying to find housing. Zoopla intends to remove the DSS field from its categories to ensure that claimants of housing benefit can no longer be barred from renting through the website.
Zoopla’s terms and conditions will also change to omit any reference such as ‘No DSS allowed’ or ‘no housing benefit’ from future online listings. It will be the first letting agent to make this move and will allow equal opportunity for all tenants.
Research by the National Housing Federation carried out in 2018 found that approximately 10% of house listings on Zoopla were found to have ‘no DSS’ or ‘no housing benefit’ stated in the advert. Some house listings do not directly discriminate against DSS but will instead state ‘professionals only’, making their intentions clear in that way.
Across England, nearly 900,000 people are in receipt of housing benefit. Homeless charity, Shelter, said that they felt letting agents across the board were discriminating against tenants in receipt of benefits and that all tenants deserved a fair chance.
The National Landlords Association (NLA) and Residential Landlord’s Association (RLA) both condemned the discrimination, with the NLA describing the practice as ‘unfair’ and ‘poor practice’. Figures provided by the Women’s Budget Group showed that discrimination towards housing benefit tenants directly impacts women, as 63% of adults claiming housing benefit are women and 90% of single parent households are female. In 2018, a single mother won compensation against a lettings agency for unfair discrimination due to her being in receipt of benefits. She argued that she had enough funds to pay the deposit and rent so her benefit entitlements where of no consequence, saying that it puts single mothers at a disadvantage.
Managing director of Zoopla, Charlie Bryant, said, “We fully support the recommendations of the NLA and the RLA which oppose blanket bans against tenants in receipt of housing related benefits, and are pleased to be taking action which clarifies this position.”
An inquiry has been launched by the government’s Work and Pensions Committee into whether there has been discrimination against benefit claimants. Lenders, agents, property ad sites and benefit recipients will be asked to take part, and an online survey will give claimants who may previously have had issues securing a rental property the opportunity to contribute.
Blanket restrictions may become a thing of the past, even though it may put pressure on property agents, leading websites and insurers to ensure applicants’ affordability.