THE vast majority of Bolton landlords don't want to let their houses and flats to tenants on housing benefits.

This is despite a court ruling earlier this year which made it unlawful to blanket ban renters who are on benefits. 

On flat and house share site, Spareroom.co.uk, only around 6 per cent of Bolton properties on the site are being offered to those on benefits.

Spare Room has a filter on its website called ‘housing benefits considered’- when selected, this filter displays properties which can be rented by those on housing benefits.

At the moment in Bolton,  there are 117 rooms available to rent on Spare Room- but out of those, only eight of them are being offered to those who claim benefits.

This Is Lancashire: The filter on Spare Room says 'housing benefits considered'The filter on Spare Room says 'housing benefits considered'

Spare Room say the filter exists for practical reasons and is a way for people on benefits so they don’t waste their time with landlords who will turn them away after applying.  

A spokesperson for Spare Room said: “The ‘housing benefit considered' filter was introduced to help people who rely on housing benefit to find available properties.

“We realised that many rooms were listed as unavailable to people on benefits, so wanted to stop them wasting time contacting people, only to find out they couldn’t rent the room.”

They added that some Buy to Let Mortgages prohibit landlords from renting to specific people on housing benefit.

As a result, they are “changing the advertising process so that a specific mortgage clause is the only reason we’ll allow for saying they won’t rent to tenants on benefits."

They added: “We’ll make it clear on the ads which these are so tenants can filter them out if needed.”

Since writing this article, Spare Room have now changed their 'housing benefits considered' filter to 'hide ads that can't accept housing benefit (due to mortgage/insurance restrictions)'.

The historic 'No DSS' court hearing

Earlier this year, a blanket ban was placed on DSS (department of social security) renting discrimination, meaning it is unlawful for landlords to prevent tenants on benefits from renting their properties.

This matter was heavily campigned and fought for by housing charity, Shelter. 

District Judge Victoria Elizabeth Mark declared in the court that: “Rejecting tenancy applications because the applicant is in receipt of housing benefit was unlawfully indirectly discriminatory on the grounds of sex and disability, contrary to […] the Equality Act 2010.”
 

This Is Lancashire: Shelter charity shop in Bolton (Photo: Google Maps)Shelter charity shop in Bolton (Photo: Google Maps)

Housing charity, Shelter, are part of the reason the historic court case on housing benefit discrimination was passed.

One of their clients, Jane, shared her story and was involved in the case itself.

Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, said: “This historic ruling makes it crystal clear that letting agents and landlords should end discriminatory practices for good. 

“That means there should be no need for ‘DSS accepted’ filters, because private rentals should be advertised as available to any prospective tenant who can afford to live in them, regardless of where their income comes from.

“Anyone who is still being turned away from rental properties they can afford, purely because they receive benefits, should write a formal email or letter to the agent asking them to reconsider and reminding them that DSS discrimination is unlawful.”

What do Bolton landlords think about renting to tenants on benefits?

Harold Lever has been a landlord within Bolton for over 25 years and is also the director for the North West Landlord Association, a Bolton-based company that offers advice, assistance and training to residential landlords.

He spoke to the Bolton News and gave his honest opinion about renting out property to people on benefits. 

He said landlords should never turn away tenants on the basis of whether they are on benefits alone- age and relationship status are also factors that need to be considered. 

Harold also said that landlords need to be prepared to see more renters claiming benefits as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr Lever said: "In the midst of the ongoing pandemic and the real possibility of job losses and redundancy following the end of the furlough scheme we all need to be aware that there has been and will continue to be a rise in Universal Credit Claims.

"Any tenants who are struggling to pay their rent should firstly communicate with their landlord as there are many ways landlords will be able to assist tenants if they are willing to have an honest and open conversation."

Harold added that renting to tenants on benefits isn't always a choice for landlords- clauses in buy to let mortgages prevent renting to people on benefits.

(Credit: Google Maps)

He added: "There are also some insurance policies that in the past have had clauses within them that have meant rises in premiums and excesses.

"We are aware that circumstances can change rapidly but it means that landlords should be made aware of any changes as soon as possible in order to comply with their contracts."
 

'The government should bring forward legislation to outlaw this practice altogether'

Tenants Union is a Manchester-based non-profit organisation, who tackle housing issues for tenants and renters.  

A spokesperson for the company spoke to Bolton News said the company worked with Shelter to fight against DSS discrimination.

While they are pleased about the outcome of the landmark courtcase, they added that it "might not guarantee protection for all tenants who rely upon benefits for some or all of their housing costs."

The spokesperson added:"The government should bring forward legislation that should outlaw [DSS discrimination] altogether."
 

They explained that filters on rental sites might seem helpful- but they actually "entrench the DSS discrimination that exists and should be prohibited."

They added: "It is unacceptable that anybody should be discriminated against because they need help from the benefits system to pay their rent.

"We need to tackle the rogue landlords and letting agents who continue these reprehensible policies, attacking the poorest and most vulnerable in society"

Renting in the coronavirus pandemic

According to government data, 21,632 people in Bolton were claiming housing benefit in May 2018.

The issue of renting on benefits has only been exacerbated by the economic downfall of the coronavirus pandemic.

Persistent 'no DSS' barriers could make an already difficult renting situation seem impossible for those on benefits.

According to data from the Office for National Statistics, the number of people in work fell by 220,000 and those claiming unemployment benefits surged to 2.7 million between March and July.

Furlough schemes currently end on October 31st the ban on tenant evictions will be lifted on 20th September.

Billy Harding, Research and Policy Officer at Centrepoint (charity for young homeless people) said: “Since the start of the pandemic, we have seen a 50% increase in the number of young people contacting our helpline seeking housing support.

“We think it will only get worse as the economic repercussions increases.

“The ‘No DSS’ court ruling is a step in the right direction- tenants have the power to challenge landlords and letting agents if they are acting unlawfully and contrary to the equality act.

“However, there’s plenty more that can be done as well.

"Platforms shouldn’t have [housing benefits] filters- people should be assessed on an individual basis and not just the way they receive their rent."
 

If you are having issues with rental discrimination you can contact Shelter England- they can give you some advice about what to do next.

There is even a template letter on Shelter’s website which you can send to landlords and agents, alongside lots of free and expert housing advice at www.shelter.org.uk/housing_advice.

If you are a young person struggling with homelessness, you can contact the Centrepoint helpline.