How one housing association is helping tenants facing discrimination in the private rented sector

Sadly, the release of research this week from the National Housing Federation highlighting blatant discrimination against benefit claimants did not come as a surprise to me. In my role as Private Lettings Manager at Shepherd’s Bush Housing Association, this is something I often see first hand.

Sanjeev Shah is Lettings Manager at Shepherd's Bush Housing Group

Sanjeev Shah is Lettings Manager at Shepherd's Bush Housing Group

8 November 2018

The Federation and Shelter's campaign to stop DSS discrimination has highlighted almost 1,500 rental property adverts in London – on one site alone – which explicitly state that they will not rent to benefit claimants. From my experience of talking to tenants, the number of landlords and estate agents who discriminate against this type of tenant, whether written in the advert or not, could in fact be much greater.

The majority of estate agents and landlords won’t accept tenants who receive benefits – even if they’re working. High rents, especially where we operate in West London, means that we are seeing more and more tenants who need to use some form of benefit to afford a place to live. Just this fact alone could lead to them being refused a property, regardless of whether they can afford the rent. This practice is unfair and amounts to blatant discrimination.

The worst example I’ve seen of such discrimination was a working couple from Acton who were living in a garden shed with no heating and hot water after being refused a property by every landlord and estate agent they approached.

At Shepherd’s Bush Housing Association, we don’t discriminate against tenants who receive benefits, so I’m pleased to say we were able to support this couple and find them safe, suitable accommodation in the form of a studio flat where they still live today. When you hear of these shocking examples you can’t help but think that, as a society, we should be doing more to help people avoid these situations.

We recently set up an ethical lettings service called 220 Lettings – named after our first ever property at 220 Hammersmith Grove. We are very proud to be bucking the trend in the treatment of benefit claimants seeking accommodation on the private rental market.

Through 220 Lettings, we lease properties from private landlords or Council Temporary Accommodation teams for periods of three to five years. This benefits tenants as it guarantees security of tenure, as long as they meet the conditions of the tenancy. This is compared to some private landlords and estate agents who sign short-term contracts and increase rent after six or 12 months, leaving tenants with the decision to either pay rent they can’t afford or start the expensive and exhausting search for a new property.

From my experience, I have seen no difference – in terms of rent payment and anti-social behaviour – between tenants who receive benefits and those who don’t. I believe this proves that our model works, and I’d urge estate agents and landlords to follow suit and end the discrimination against benefit claimants.

I hope in the future, as housing become an increasingly important issue facing us and future generations, we will see estate agents, landlords and property websites unified in helping rather than hindering people to find a place to live. In my role, I get to see the positive impact which comes from having the security of safe and appropriate accommodation. I look forward to helping many more West London residents achieve this, so they can concentrate on flourishing in other areas of their lives.

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