Trying to find a place to live when you are on benefits can be near impossible. Landlords already demand huge deposits, which few benefit claimants can afford. Even then, claimants have to find a landlord who will accept Housing Benefit or face being forced to lie about their financial circumstances.
This is one of the main drivers of homelessness. If you are unemployed, or on a low wage, and have no savings, it is near impossible to secure private rented accommodation. Don’t expect the Council to help. Unless you have children or can jump through the ever increasing number of hoops which means your Local Authority deems you ‘vulnerable’, then they are under no obligation to offer any help at all with housing..
The ubiquitous phrase No DSS is displayed in the windows of many Estate Agents and refers to their refusal to house benefit claimants. Foxtons, one of London’s largest estate agents, on a quick phone call to their main number, say they will only accept benefit claimants in Guildford, Woking or Stratford, but not their swanky central London pads. This includes, according to the person on the end of the phone at least, people claiming Disability Living Allowance (DLA), a non means tested disability benefit available to those in and out of work alike. A call to a local Foxtons Office in Dulwich asking the same question brings the same answer. They will not accept any tenants on benefits of any kind.
The refusal to accept DLA may simply be down to a mistake by their agents on the end of the phone. Or it may mean that Foxtons will not accept disabled tenants in Central London. It seems clear that anyone on an out of work health related benefit, such as Employment Support Allowance (ESA), would be wasting their time ringing Foxtons in the hope of securing a roof over their heads.
The phrase ‘No DSS’ is somewhat ludicrous since the DSS, the old Department of Social Security, doesn’t even exist anymore. It is generally used as a euphemism to mean no-one on benefits at all. This can be interpreted to mean someone on a low wage who qualifies for a Housing Benefit top up, as well as anyone on DLA, ESA, Income Support, Pension Credit or the unemployment benefit Job Seekers Allowance.
Indirect discrimination, in reference to disability, is defined in the Equalities Act as:
(1)A person (A) discriminates against a disabled person (B) if—
(a)A treats B unfavourably because of something arising in consequence of B’s disability, and
(b)A cannot show that the treatment is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.
It is unlikely that the Courts would consider preventing disabled people from accessing housing as a legitimate aim. This begs the question of whether the phrase ‘No DSS’ is a legal demand for landlords to make.
Private sector tenants have been so worn down by the erosion of tenants rights that this is not a matter which has drawn much scrutiny. A blog on The Guardian last year posed the question: Do ‘No DSS’ and ‘No students’ notices fall foul of the Equality Act?
On the question of students, and most people on Job Seekers Allowance, it seems that landlords are acting legally, if immorally, when they discriminate against them. However for those on disability benefit the situation is not quite so clear. According to The Guardian (which is checked by lawyers and stuff):
“As I have said, I am assuming that placebobutton considers that refusing to let premises to benefit claimants will be indirectly discriminatory on the grounds of disability because disabled people are more likely to be out of or unable to work and therefore in receipt of social security benefits. I don’t know whether this is indeed the case, but statistics to this effect will be necessary if someone is going to show that disabled people are put at a particular disadvantage by this criterion. If statistics can be produced which show that disabled people are significantly more likely to be on benefits than people who are not disabled, then unless a landlord or estate agent can show that refusing to let to benefit claimants is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim – and it is hard to see what such a legitimate aim might be – he/she will fall foul of the Equality Act.”
There are around 6 million disabled people in the UK. Over half are claiming DLA. Around a third are likely to be on ESA, the benefit which is for people unable to work because of sickness or disability. A significant number of disabled people will also now be on Job Seekers Allowance, particularly after the Atos holocaust which has seen hundreds of thousands of disabled people stripped of health benefits.
No-one who is not disabled is claiming DLA (despite what this Government may pretend). It seems pretty clear that discriminating against someone on the grounds they are claiming DLA is therefore illegal. If it is really Foxtons’ policy not to accept anyone on any disability benefits then they are probably breaking the law. This is no real surprise. Foxtons are scum.
The definition of disability given in the Equalities Act may not apply exactly to everyone on DLA or ESA, and obviously many people on Job Seekers Allowance are not disabled. But the evidence suggests that of the 6 million disabled people in the UK, most are on some form of benefit, and around a third are on an out of work benefit.
As a third of the non-disabled workforce aren’t on benefits, it is therefore easy to show that yes, disabled people are more likely to be on benefits than non-disabled people. If The Guardian is correct then it does seem that the phrase ‘No DSS’ is illegal.
Perhaps it is time to turn our attention to the unpleasant practices of money grabbing landlords as the housing crisis bites?
You can call Foxtons to question them in detail about their policies towards disabled people on benefits on: 0800 369 8667.
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