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By Joanne Young

Legal Director, Ashfords LLP

OTHER FEATURES

No more ‘no DSS’ – is the government wasting its time?

Last week, the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government announced a number of measures aimed at further tackling homelessness, including funding to help potential new tenants with rental/first month payments.

However, it was a different measure that dominated the headlines and could prove more controversial.

The government has set its sights on tackling landlords and letting agents who (in its words) ‘potentially discriminate’ against tenants who are on benefits.

The government says just under 890,000 of the 4.5 million private renting tenants are in receipt of benefit – a figure politicians are seemingly keen to increase.

The proposal is that government will meet with representatives from across the lettings spectrum to discuss ‘clamping down’ on ‘blanket ban’ adverts – with the potential of having a complete ban on ‘no DSS’ adverts in the future.

The ideology that lies behind the proposal is hard to argue against. The rise of street homelessness is apparent in every town in the country – and hidden homelessness and ‘sofa surfing’ has also increased.

The far from smooth implementation of Universal Credit has been well-publicised. Trying to encourage private landlords to accept tenants who are in receipt of benefits and give those individuals an opportunity to obtain a place they can call home is an entirely admirable aim.

However, I cannot but help to sound a note of caution. I have attended numerous landlord events over the years where entirely well-meaning and enthusiastic representatives from the Department for Work and Pensions who try to ‘sell’ the benefits system to private landlords. It is a tough gig!

Many private landlords in England are small-scale, their lettings portfolio may only comprise one or two properties. Letting is not their ‘business’ and they do not have the time, resources, or frankly the inclination to spend time chasing tenants (or the benefits agencies) about unpaid rent.

They want tenants who will pay rent in full and on time, with no risk that the rent they receive could be clawed back from them in some circumstances. They want tenants who seemingly have the financial means to be pursued in the event damage is caused to their property. Rightly or wrongly, this does therefore lead many private landlords to prefer tenants who will not be relying on benefits to pay the rent.

For these reasons, I am of the view that the government may therefore be wasting its well-meaning time in this venture. Even if there were a complete ban on landlords and letting agents excluding benefit recipients when advertising for properties, I suspect that, once the potential tenant’s financial situation was made known, many landlords would refuse to proceed with the letting.

All that a ban would do therefore is simply waste the time of both parties in cases where a landlord would not consider a let to a benefit recipient.

Only a complete ban on landlords being able to refuse tenants on benefits would tackle this problem – but given many small-scale private landlords are already leaving the market, such a ban would almost certainly see a larger exodus.

It will be interesting to see how this pans out.

*Joanne Young is a Legal Director in the Property Litigation Team at leading law firm Ashfords LLP and specialises in housing management.

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    Agree. Completely pointless banning the adverts This won’t house one more tenant
    Government seem to have no interest in actually tackling the reasons why such applicants are declined, but just want landlords to take them and their associated risks no questions asked

  • Paul Barrett

    Surely it is the case that many HB tenants would be unable or unwilling to pay a market rent the LL may require.
    No Govt could ever force LL to take on HB tenants.
    In many cases that would be a de facto form of rent control.
    LL who were unable to subsidise the HB rent could be bankrupted.
    My rents are double the LHA rate.
    I cannot afford to take on HB tenants at the outset of a tenancy.
    They simply DON'T; won't or can't pay enough.
    There is simply no way any Govt could force me to take on any HB tenant.
    Even if a police state it would still be impossible to force me to take on HB tenant as I simply wouldnt have the resources rquired to service all the rental property commitments.
    Govt makes itself look very silly when it comes out with ridiculous platitudes.
    Govt isnt that thick that it knows full well why LL refuse to take on HB tenants.
    To acknowledge these circumstances would be for the Govt to accept that it is the problem.
    So something it will never do!!!
    Everyone does actually know the reasons for LL refusing to take on HB tenants at the outset of a tenancy.
    Govt serms to be making out that LL are just being bloody minded when it knows full well why LL refuse DSS tenants!
    Until Govt addresses the well known problems Govt will continue to be unsuccesful in convincing LL to take on DSS tenants.

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    Not sure about the current Housing Minister but Gavin Barlow told me that it was his preference to close down the PRS where the landlord has a small portfolio of below 15 homes. He wanted local councils or big business to be the landlords in future, investing in purpose built units on large housing estates. Wonderful. If this remains the policy then forcing out small landlords is what is wanted ....

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