Leading UK property websites are discriminating against renters on benefits. A BBC investigation found advertisements on SpareRoom and OpenRent don’t allow people on benefits to apply. The practice is unlawful.
Blanket bans on renting properties to benefits claimants were ruled unlawful in July. A judge said the discriminatory practice breaks the 2010 Equality Act on the grounds of sex and disability. However, the BBC investigation highlighted how widespread the activity still is on popular property websites. Over 80% of the 59,000 listings examined weren’t open to benefits claimants.
SpareRoom director Matt Hutchinson told the BBC the platform changed its policies after the July ruling, allowing landlords to state properties are unavailable to benefits claimants only if their mortgage or insurance forbids it. Hutchinson went on to say SpareRoom is “currently in the process of removing the option to list as unavailable to benefits claimants completely”.
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Disproportionate impact on women and disabled people
Shelters published data showing how policies banning benefits claimants affects women and disabled people disproportionately. Women in the private rented sector are over 1.5 times more likely to receive Housing Benefit. Disabled people are also more likely to be out of work.
Also, a lot more elderly renters could have the problem affect them, as their numbers in rented accommodation are growing. Last year, research by Hamptons International found that there has been a sharp increase in the number of over-50s living in rented accommodation. While over-50s made up 11% of rented households in 2011, the figure climbed to 15% in 2019.
The number of older benefits claimants increasing
The unlawful practice is happening at a time when the number of benefits claimants is increasing. The coronavirus pandemic has led to job losses, and many are claiming for housing payments within Universal Credit for the first time. According to the Department for Work and Pensions, claimant figures have increased by 62% to 1.2 million since the start of the pandemic.
Over-50s make up an increasingly large portion of benefits claimants. According to data analysed by Rest Less and reported by the Guardian, the number of over-50s claiming benefits increased from 304,000 in March to 588,000 in June this year. More over-50s are currently claiming Universal Credit than those under-25.
The main reason for the discrimination seems to be down to negative attitudes towards benefits claimants. YouGov and Shelter surveyed landlord attitudes and found most don’t rent to benefits claimants because they don’t want to “let to this type of person”.
Negative attitudes are also impacting the ability for over-50s to find new work. Andy Briggs, group CEO at Phoenix Group and Government Business Champion for Older Workers, told the Guardian, “We know that if you become unemployed over the age of 50 you are less likely than any other group to get another job”.
Changing attitudes can take time, but property sites are hoping to tackle unlawful behaviour with more robust policies. The property sites responded to BBC’s investigation with a guarantee to continue renewing their policies. Spokespeople for the platforms all said they want to ensure discriminatory practices become a thing of the past.