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Facing Disability Discrimination in the U.K. Housing Rental Market

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Dear Buy-to-Rent Landlords, and Lettings Estate Agents,

My family are imminently homeless. It’s not the first time — and we pay our rent in full and on time.

I am on benefits due to a combination of disabilities and caring responsibilities. Many more disabled people live in a similar financial situation. These circumstances are outside of my control. Our current landlord is selling our home, which has adaptations, as they have inherited our house and don’t need it. They have every right to do so, it’s just unfortunate for us.

We are now entering our third month of searching for an accessible enough, affordable home. The local housing allowance (LHA) system is a lifeline for many families, but the types of accommodation that are most accessible for mobility reasons are priced too high in the private rental market to be affordable. We have been recognized as being in emergency need of housing by our local council, but there are simply not enough accessible properties available within the social housing sector. Eviction is a very real possibility.

Recently I tried to book a viewing for a bungalow. Unfortunately, the company’s policy of not letting to tenants in receipt of Housing Benefit/Universal Credit meant I wasn’t eligible to rent the property. Their booking form read: “Please do not book a viewing if you are on Housing Benefit or Universal Credit as we can’t accept you due to an insurance we provide for landlords. The viewing will get cancelled if you do book.”

As per the following information I obtained from a quick Google Search, it is possible to provide insurance for landlords that does not discriminate against tenants receiving housing benefits. “According to a survey carried out by the RLA’s mortgage consultants 3mc last year, 66 percent of lenders — representing approximately 90 percent of the buy-to-let market — do not allow properties to be rented out to those in receipt of housing benefit.”

In practice, I have rented for many years in the private sector, and can provide evidence of an excellent payment history — rent paid on time, every time; so I know it’s possible! I also have excellent references from local letting agents. My current and previous landlords checked the affordability of their properties against my income and expenditure, and it was all good.

Has your company considered that it is indirectly discriminating against people with disabilities? Due to the massive upheaval involved in moving, people with disabilities are actually a good bet as long term tenants. Fewer void periods for landlords equals more money. One of my tenancies lasted for eight years, and only ended due to my moving across the country to help care for my mum who has dementia.

In the above example, the original ad on Right Move stated that the property was “Suitable for family or professional sharers only.” There was no mention that people on benefits would not be considered. It occurred to me that this might be that company’s way of avoiding the consequences of stating “No DSS” on their advertisement. My understanding is that the government is in the process of banning these types of ads due to their discriminatory nature.

In fact, I did contact the estate agents concerned, stating that “I would be grateful if you could read or ask your boss to read this article; it might help your agency to reconsider its position.” I also expressed my disappointment at not being able to view the bungalow on the same basis as an employed person. After all, in the current climate of redundancies and businesses closing down, an employed applicant could end up having to claim benefits to help pay their rent.

From personal experience, transitioning from fully self-financing to benefits support can be disruptive to cash flow — and this can result in delayed payment of rent. My situation cannot get any lower, so my family is a good bet for continuity in rent payments! I requested that the agency review its policy, and amend it to a more positive/less discriminatory one. I await their reply.

Landlords and Estate Agents, please remember that any one of you might end up in a position where your life undergoes a massive change in circumstances outside of your control. Put yourselves in my position. How would you feel about being treated less favorably than the pets that agency (and many others) will consider as part of a tenancy? For goodness sake, treat us like the individuals we are.

Getty image by Victor Huang.

Originally published: July 15, 2019
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