For the last five years I have received housing benefit, and for the last five years I have continued to pay my rent in full and on time.
I have a disability which leaves me seriously ill and hospitalised for periods of time, which is why I need housing benefit. But I do have a guarantor, a landlord reference, plus photographs of my previous home in the good condition that I left it in. I even managed to save-up an emergency fund to make sure I had a safety net should the worst happen.
For all intents and purposes, I am a good tenant.
However, none of this matters when you receive housing benefit and want to rent from one of the many of the landlords and letting agents up and down the country who blindly turn people away.
Last year, I was looking to move and began searching online for an affordable place to rent. Despite finding numerous properties within my budget, it was made painfully clear by ‘No DSS’ signs that I would not be considered solely because I need housing benefit. It was that simple. After a while of seeing the same signs and being repeatedly rejected, I wouldn’t even bother to apply as the outcome became all too familiar.
I couldn’t believe people could get away with such blatant discrimination in this day and age. I cried myself to sleep thinking if anything happens to my current place no one else is going to take me – I’ll be homeless.
I contacted Shelter for advice and they agreed the practice was wrong, and it was blocking perfectly good tenants like me from finding our next home. Shelter helped me to write formal letters to five letting agents asking that they stop discriminating against people on housing benefit and start treating people fairly on a case-by-case basis.
I was prepared to take them all the way to court if they refused to change their ways. I’d seen Rosie Keogh’s story and was spurred on to fight my corner. Rosie received compensation from a letting agent after they refused to consider her application, so it looked like the law was on our side.
Discriminating against housing benefit tenants indirectly breaches the Equality Act, as women and disabled people are more likely to need housing benefit. Sticking ‘No DSS’ up in the window is pretty much the same as saying ‘no disabled people’ and ‘no single mums’.
After receiving mine and Shelter’s letters, the five letting agents agreed to stop discriminating against housing benefit tenants – including removing ‘No DSS’ filters and retraining staff. Each one agreed to consider all applications on a case by case basis in the future. They knew we were right! One of the letting agents, Martin & Co. has agreed to change their policy in 185 franchises, which will make a massive difference to thousands of other renters in the same boat as me.
Having somewhere secure to live is ridiculously important for any person’s mental health. Knowing that my tenancy could end at any time and I might not be able to find anywhere else is terrifying. We must not allow the ill-judged prejudice landlords and letting agents make the insecurity of renting even worse. Every renter should be safe in the knowledge that they’re free to apply for homes they can afford – regardless of whether they receive a housing benefit top-up.
If you’ve faced DSS discrimination recently, share your story with Shelter like I did, and they might be able to help you too.
You can also add your voice to Shelter’s campaign to make sure no one experiences what I went through. 25,000 people have already signed Shelter’s petition, and by joining forces together we’re making enough noise to make a difference.