At least 1 in 10 properties online likely to be advertised unlawfully

8 November 2018

At least 1 in 10 rental properties in England are likely to be advertised unlawfully by explicitly discriminating against people who rely on housing benefit, new research from the National Housing Federation and Shelter shows.

The analysis of around 86,000 letting agent adverts on Zoopla shows that 8,710 adverts for different residential properties in England say ‘no DSS’ or ‘no housing benefit’ [ i ].

A shortage of social housing and high house prices have led to rapidly growing numbers of people having to rent privately and depend on housing benefit. There are now more than 1.4 million people in this situation in England [ii]. Women and people with disabilities are disproportionately in this situation and therefore affected by discrimination [iii]. Indirectly discriminating against woman and people with disabilities, by banning people on housing benefit, is likely to violate the 2010 Equality Act.

The analysis from the two housing charities reveals the discrimination is far more prevalent in some parts of the country:

Top 10 worst areas


Percentage of adverts that said ‘No DSS’

North Cumbria


West Cumbria










Weston Super Mare


Oldham & Rochdale


Thameside & Glossop


Wolds & Coast


Worryingly, these explicitly discriminatory adverts are only the tip of the iceberg. Many other adverts imply that DSS is not accepted by saying ‘professionals only’. Previous research from Shelter and the National Housing Federation revealed how many housing benefit tenants are rejected by letting agents over the phone, regardless of whether they can afford the rent or not [iv].

Zoopla are not the only online property platform to facilitate this potentially unlawful practice. Previous research has found numerous discriminatory adverts across all major property platforms including RightMove, and OpenRent [v].

Today’s research also uncovers the wider discrimination faced by housing benefit tenants online. In an undercover investigation, two versions of an almost identical application to landlords on and Gumtree. Shockingly, a woman posing as someone on housing benefit was more than twice as likely to be rejected by landlords, compared to a woman who wasn’t.

The National Housing Federation and Shelter have joined forces to urge letting agents and landlords to end this likely unlawful practice. They are also calling on online property websites to stop facilitating this grossly unfair discrimination.



Michelle Hunte, 36, from London has experienced this kind of discrimination first hand. Her and her family were made homeless in 2016 after their landlord ended their tenancy. She says:

“I couldn’t find anywhere to live so ended up in a horrible BnB with only a single bed for myself, my husband and our 1 year old child who is disabled. There was no space for a cot, it was dirty, there were no cooking facilities. There was nowhere for my other children to sleep so they had to stay with different family and friends.

“I woke up every day at 6am to look for a home. Everywhere I looked online said ‘No DSS’ - Gumtree, Facebook, everywhere. I’d spend the rest of the day going to every letting agent in the area. Every single one said we don’t take people on housing benefit. There was no point trying to explain my situation. It was so stressful being apart from my family. I’m now suffering from anxiety and depression. I just didn’t know what was going to happen one day to the next. 

“Eventually I found this home through Shepherds Bush Housing Association who were the only landlords who would accept someone on benefits. They really supported me and gave me a long tenancy. I’ve never missed a rent payment before and I’ve looked after every home I’ve lived in really well. This kind of discrimination has to stop.”


Kate Henderson, Chief Executive of the National Housing Federation, which represents housing associations in England, social landlords to around 6 million people, says:

“This research shows that blatant discrimination against people on housing benefit is widespread. Landlords and letting agents are pushing people towards homelessness and could be breaking equality law. It is beyond me why property websites are permitting these adverts. They’re sending the message that they’re ok discriminating against someone, simply because they’re on benefits. This has to change.

“Many housing associations were created in the 50s and 60s in reaction to discrimination and racism from private landlords who wouldn’t house migrants, and said “No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs.” Today’s discrimination is hardly any different and we refuse to turn a blind eye.”


Polly Neate, Chief Executive of Shelter says:

“It’s staggering to see this discrimination laid out in black and white - and brazenly enforced by letting agents, landlords and online property websites. ‘No DSS’ is outdated, offensive and causing misery for thousands.

“Families are finding themselves barred from renting homes time and time again, simply because they need a Housing Benefit top up. At a time when colossal private rents are out of reach for so many, that seems absurd.

“Not only is ‘No DSS’ grossly unfair, it is likely to be unlawful because it overwhelming affects women and disabled people. That’s why we need the lettings industry to stop blaming each other, accept its role in this shocking practice and clean up its act.” 


For further information please contact: Charlotte Morris, PR Manager, National Housing Federation or 0207 069 1039 (out of hours 07786 916 877)  


Notes for Editors:

About the National Housing Federation

The National Housing Federation is the voice of affordable housing in England. We believe that everyone should have the home they need at a price they can afford. That’s why we represent the work of housing associations and campaign for better housing.

Our members provide over two and a half million homes for six million people. And each year they invest in a diverse range of neighbourhood projects that help create strong, vibrant communities.

For more information visit:


About Shelter

Shelter helps millions of people every year struggling with bad housing or homelessness through our advice, support and legal services. We campaign to make sure that, one day, no one will have to turn to us for help.  For free and independent advice from Shelter visit:


About Shepherds Bush Housing Association

Shepherds Bush Housing Association has 5000 homes in west London. It runs a private lettings service called 220 Lettings. It leases properties from private landlords and offers long tenancies and very limited fees (only to cover costs). This helps those who might otherwise fall through the cracks – not eligible or social housing but not able to rent on the private market with its demands for deposits, guarantors and high fees.


[ i ] We looked at the latest 100 advertisements associated with each postcode area. This produced a base of 123,800 property advertisements to work with. We then removed any duplications of adverts and any listings which were for commercial property, land, garages etc. This left us with 85,972 adverts for different properties available to rent. These adverts were coded into two categories, “Y” or “N”. “N” properties were those where the advert explicitly stated that nobody on benefits would be considered. For more information see "DSS need not apply"

[ ii ] NHF calculated an estimate for the number of adults on housing benefit in England using DWP Stat-Xplore tool. Figure correct at Nov 2018.

[ iii ] Women make up 59.1% of adults in households dependent on housing benefit in the private rented sector in England, while only 50.6% of the English population is female. Similarly, 12.7% of people dependent on housing benefit in the private rented sector in England are also claiming disability-related benefits, compared to only 5.2% of the general population. Sources: DWP Stat-Xplore; ONS; Wave 7 of Understanding Society survey.

[ iv ] National Housing Federation and Shelter, 22 August, 2017

[ v ] BBC, No DSS: Most flat shares refuse benefit claimants, 7 March 2017