‘DSS’ is the lettings industry term for tenants who rely on benefits to pay all or some of their rent. These tenants can find it harder to find homes to rent than tenants in full time employment.
OpenRent has been arguing for sensible reform to fix ‘DSS’ discrimination for a long time. We are used by hundreds of thousands of ‘DSS’ tenants because our site clearly labels properties by whether the landlord has indicated they are able to let to tenants paying the rent with benefits.
This transparency makes it much easier for these tenants to find a home quickly.
Transparency Is under Attack
Recently, though, housing advice charity Shelter have been campaigning to ban rental adverts from displaying the ‘DSS’ terminology that we use to help tenants quickly find homes they are able to rent.
We, and our landlords, think it is deeply regrettable that tenants claiming benefits have a harder time in the private rented sector. Like Shelter, we are working to bring about change.
But on this issue, they forgot to check that their ideas are actually wanted by the very people they are meant to help — OpenRent users who claim benefits.
So we asked three questions to 400 tenants who claim housing benefits:
- Should OpenRent continue using ‘DSS’ in adverts?
- What term should we use to describe tenants on benefits?
- What one thing would they change about renting to make it easier to find a property?
1. Tenants Find ‘DSS Accepted’ Helpful
Our survey has shown that 90% of tenants on benefits were opposed to Shelter’s campaign to ban the term from adverts. Tenants want to be able to search for ‘DSS Accepted’ ads on OpenRent, therefore we do not agree with Shelter that we ought to ban them.
While Shelter’s views and tenants’ interests are often aligned, our direct consultation has found them not to be so on this issue.
We will of course continue to direct tenants that need expert housing advice on their specific circumstances to Shelter as we have always done.
2. Using the Term ‘DSS’
We have never been entirely comfortable with the phrase ‘DSS’. I explained why in this post.
Public data suggested that ‘DSS’ is the most used term for finding homes available to tenants on benefits. But we wanted to check this, so we also asked tenants which phrase they were most familiar with.
We found that 70% of tenants were most familiar with the term ‘DSS’, followed by ‘UC (Universal Credit)’ on 16%. The next most familiar term for these ads was ‘Benefits’.
Based on this data, we shall continue to use the phrase ‘DSS Accepted’ on the site in favour of other terms like ‘UC/Benefits Accepted’. It is important to make these properties as easy to find as possible, especially given that many users will not have English as their first language.
3. Tackling the Causes of Discrimination
We asked tenants what they would change about renting to make it easier for people on benefits to find housing. The most popular responses were:
- They can’t afford large deposits and move-in costs
- They find it hard to provide a guarantor
- More landlords should consider accepting ‘DSS’ tenants
- Councils should pay housing benefits directly to the landlord
- ‘DSS’ tenants always fail referencing checks, making landlords distrust them
These are indicative of the real reasons that some landlords are unable to let to tenants on benefits. We are committed to tackling them.
For example, we know that some landlords can’t access insurance policies for their tenancy if they let to ‘DSS’ tenants. We have therefore been speaking to insurers to see if we can produce a policy that will cover these tenancies. We welcome support in driving this change through the industry.
OpenRent is compatible with deposit replacement products that may help some tenants avoid large upfront payments (although we recommend reading our guide before deciding).
We have never charged tenants admin or agency fees, either, which has helped to keep move-in costs low.
Ending ‘DSS’ Discrimination
It is direct work like this that will lead to more landlords being able to let to ‘DSS’ tenants. Simply banning the terminology will achieve nothing.
We use real data, not assumptions, to create the best possible experience for our users. We will continue to work with policymakers to solve the problems tenants and landlords face.