At OpenRent we do a lot of work to try to improve the experience for benefit claimants looking for a new home. It’s a topic we care deeply about, and we’re proud of the fact we let more properties to benefit claimants than any other agent in the UK.
As such we’ve been following with interest recent news of a court ruling against a letting agent who refused to rent to a single mum because she was in receipt of benefits. In the wake of that we’ve also been approached by the BBC, who asked us to comment on the % of properties advertised on OpenRent that show “DSS Income Accepted”, and Shelter, who believe we should remove all mention of DSS and benefit claimants from our adverts entirely.
This is a complex issue – so given these recent developments we thought we’d take some time to explain our thinking on all of the above.
We fully support the recent court ruling against blanket bans
There’s been a recent court ruling against a letting agent who imposed a blanket ban against benefit claimants. Anyone who approached that agent who was a benefit claimant was told they couldn’t apply for any properties on their books – before their circumstances were even understood.
We consider blanket bans an obviously unfair practice, which there is already a general industry consensus against. It’s noteworthy that the letting agent did not attempt to defend the case and did not argue that their policy was justified. As such, this ruling unfortunately doesn’t really do much to advance the conversation, but it does call out and punish someone doing something already widely condemned. So let’s be clear:
OpenRent fully support Shelter’s efforts to eliminate blanket bans and are pleased that there now appears to be legal precedent around these.
OpenRent is a great place for all tenants to find their new home
OpenRent does not ban any group of tenants, and in fact in the past year we let over 25,000 properties where applications from benefit claimants were explicitly welcomed by the landlord. This is more than any other agent in the UK. We also know that many local authorities’ housing teams actively refer claimants to OpenRent as a good place to find suitable properties.
We put significant work and effort into changing perceptions in the industry, and encouraging landlords to consider the widest possible range of tenants for their properties, which is in everyone’s interest.
We do not discriminate against any group of tenants – we actively welcome benefit claimants as customers and we have features specifically designed to make their search for a new home easier and less stressful.
We know that access to suitable properties for benefit claimants is a real and painful problem, and we want to solve the root causes of these issues
We welcome the BBC and Shelter using their considerable voices to draw attention to the issue – however as a standalone piece of analysis, the low proportion of properties available to benefit claimants is something that’s already well documented.
The BBC stated that “about 75% of listings on the website OpenRent said the landlords would not accept people on benefits”. But this doesn’t take into account affordability: local housing allowance thresholds put far more than 75% of properties out of reach of people in receipt of benefits.
In London, local housing allowance is capped at 30% of 2011 rents, with a few tiny increases and then frozen since 2015. London Councils, which is a cross-party local government association, conclude that:
New analysis of Valuation Office Agency data by London Councils shows that the proportion of properties affordable on LHA is now well below 20 per cent for all 70 of London’s LHA rates and on average only 8 per cent of the market is affordable across all of London.
In addition to the fundamental issue of affordability, some landlords face significant legal and financial blockers to being able to rent to benefit claimants, and we have done our best to represent these in parliament while also working with key suppliers in the industry to improve their products and launch new ones, in order to address these issues at source.
Our belief, based on speaking to our customers including surveying hundreds of benefit claimants directly, is that applicants should be made aware upfront of any conditions of renting a property. CMA guidance for letting agents also supports this approach.
When applying for properties on OpenRent, tenants are always given the chance to explain their particular circumstances and suitability for a property – however currently a landlord might have an explicit clause in their mortgage agreement that prohibits them from granting the tenancy. We’re committed to solving root causes like these, however in the meantime our customers are overwhelmingly telling us we should not be pretending the problem doesn’t exist.
Hiding conditions of renting over which the landlord has no discretion only wastes time for all involved, and indeed makes the situation far worse for the very people we are all trying to help.