It’s not a good time to be young. The generation gap is so wide that ‘luxury’ housing developers could even start building there – fleecing students for 80% of their income, no doubt. Cynicism is an easy philosophy to adopt during this dark timeline. But when York County Court ruled in July that a letting agent using the ‘no DSS’ tag to deny tenancy to a disabled, single parent was discriminatory and unlawful, a glint of light darted from behind the clouds, meaning the prevalence of housing inequality would finally be destroyed.
The phrase ‘no DSS’ references the old Department for Social Security, which was replaced by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) in 2001. It represents years of acceptable discrimination against benefits claimants under the guise of unsuitability or financial incompatibility. For disability campaigners, this ruling was an extraordinary moment with the press hailing it as a ‘breakthrough.’
Of course, this dark timeline tells us that even the slightest pinch of hope is immediately set on fire. According to the housing charity Shelter, who led the court case in July and shared in the initial burst of optimism, landlords and letting agents are ignoring the ruling. So it’s no pets, no children, no smokers, no DSS, no breathing, eating or talking.
That’s how it feels at least. Many young people in this Coronavirus recession are jobless and left without hope. With millions of new claimants on Universal Credit, young people forced out of their livelihoods will have even less of a chance of moving home. Ignoring the ‘no DSS’ ruling condemns the less fortunate with more uncertainty.
If we are set to be ‘Generation Rent,’ at the very least the doors should be open. The cost of moving and renting is already a barrier to personal and economic freedom. It’s no exaggeration when we joke about seven different expenses hidden behind the small print. It’s £50 for admin, double that for reference costs, and £75 to go into the agency fees kitty for Dave the manager to buy a new pair of ghastly gold-buckled shoes. Students who often change accommodation each year will know this too well. Our inexperience in the battle royale of private renting shouldn’t be a green light for exploitation.
Shelter has led a campaign against ‘no DSS’ discrimination since 2018 demanding letting agents, websites and landlords to remove the policy. Several surveys from private landlords have revealed how they routinely deny tenancy to benefits claimants. More recently, a poll of nearly 2000 landlords showed how 86% thought the ‘no DSS’ policy was lawful or were unsure. It doesn’t bode well for prospective, often desperate tenants when their landlord is criminally out of touch.
The reasons given by landlords and letting agents for using the policy are disguised as concerns for tenants’ ‘financial stability’ or being able to pay on time. Those upfront moving costs are weaponised to weaken a benefits claimant’s tenancy – landlords want their hard-earned rent in full and upfront, not in arrears.
Housing benefit is tied to the Local Housing Allowance rate and is given an amount which fits with local market rates. So the idea that a person on housing benefit or Universal Credit would not be able to pay the rent is untrue. These untruths lead to a culture of anti-landlord hostility; an obvious by-product of the private greed nurtured by our current housing crisis.
The ‘no DSS’ ruling being entrenched in legislation would unlock freedom for many disadvantaged sections of society, not just unemployed and young people. Single women are twice as likely to claim housing benefit than single men, with disabled and vulnerable people also disproportionately affected.
Removing the ban gives more people a chance to live independently, outside of the buckling social housing sector and in a home they choose. This independence is highly underrated. Moving away from home or into stable accommodation is about freedom – a space to breathe. For people looking to escape from difficult circumstances, their benefits should not be a brick wall preventing them to move.
The UK’s housing crisis is one of many we’re living through, and it has been put into the background while Coronavirus cripples the country. But better housing options and a wider provision of housing for people on low incomes would reduce inequality, and as such, reduce the risk of spreading the virus. Deprivation has already been linked to increased transmission and more space to grow is a definite boon for health and happiness.
Despite the traditional, Conservative value of a ‘property-owning democracy,’ this has been disappearing, as housing and especially homes for disadvantaged people are relegated to a government side project.
Creating firm, authoritative legislation which allows benefit claimants to move into private rentals without the fear of ‘no DSS’ discrimination, would give hope to desperate people. Young and disadvantaged people may never feel the weight of their house keys in their palms – but we should at least have the front doors open.