Britain’s landlords are living in the past, it seems, with many of them determined to exclude benefit claimants by using the archaic statement “No DSS”.
The DSS to which this refers was the Department of Social Security, which was merged into the Department for Work and Pensions nearly two decades ago, in 2001.
It is symptomatic of an attitude that belongs even further in history, when prospective tenants were put off by the racist slogan, “No blacks, no Irish, no dogs.”
Obviously landlords can no longer advertise racism, although one way around that may be the “No DSS” slogan, as racial minorities are still more likely to be on benefits.
And it seems dogs are more desirable than claimants these days:
The Commons work and pensions select committee on Wednesday confronted the director of Your Move, a national online lettings agency, with an advert it published in March for a home in Telford, Shropshire, that read: “No DSS. Small dogs considered.”
More interestingly, the slogan is offensive to almost one-third of the UK population. Perhaps these landlords don’t realise that 20 million people in the UK are currently claiming benefits, according to the DWP.
Derek Thomas MP said [it] amounted to a “hostile environment” for tenants on benefits.
In practise, the exclusion refers to the 889,000 people on Housing Benefit.
Shelter said the “no DSS” practice breached equality law because it disproportionately affects women and people with disabilities. Renters say it means they have less choice, standards are lower and costs higher.
So these landlords are deliberately pushing benefit claimants – most commonly women and people with disabilities – into hardship.
It’s deliberate discrimination – but the only remedy is expensive court action.
Letting agents have said landlords have derogatory preconceptions about people on benefits – that they believe their properties may be damaged in ways depicted on TV shock-documentaries about nightmare tenants.
Worse, the Conservative government’s Universal Credit is a disaster for people on benefits because it deliberately starves them of the funds they need to pay their bills – and landlords interpret this as unreliability on the part of the tenant, rather than the government.
Frank Field, chair of the Commons Work and Pensions committee, said it was possible to recommend new legislation to stop discrimination against benefit claimants.
But how far is that likely to get, when the likes of Christopher Chope and Philip Davies are there to “talk out” any Bills to penalise landlords, from the backbenches?
In fact, with the House of Commons stuffed with MPs who are also landlords, how can anyone hope for positive change?
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