According to Landlords Today, a new report by the Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research at Sheffield Hallam University says that “One in three private landlords have either made up their minds that they will stop taking housing benefit claimants as a result of the Government’s welfare reforms, or are actively considering it.”
Frankly, that’s a crock.
I’ve been in the rental sector, on disability benefits, since 1986, and whenever I’ve moved, or even considered moving, I’d run up against the same brick wall every time – “No Social” and, even years after its demise, “No DSS,” both terms giving an indication of how long they’d been in use. Even long before I was on benefits, rental property ads often carried such restrictions. It’s a very long way from being new.
It’s a long-established fact that private landlords have always been prejudiced against benefit claimants in a way that had they said “No Blacks” – popular when I was young – they’d have been in court in very short order. Those of us on benefits gave no protection against bigotry.
It’s an attitude that baffles me. If the rents charged are fair, then Housing Benefit provides a guaranteed income (though with plans afoot to stop paying HB directly to landlords, that will change). It’s only when rents are excessive, leaving the tenant to make up the shortfall out of money they probably don’t have, that it all falls to pieces.
Time was, and as recently as the mid 80s, councils employed Rent Officers – my erstwhile father-in-law was one, which proved useful – who, if a tenant complained about an extortionate rent, would investigate, assess the value of the property based on the average for the area for similar properties and, if it really was too high, set a legally-enforceable fair rent, which would remain in force for the duration of the tenancy, subject to only legitimate increases to cover rising costs etc.
Of course, such a system, providing protection for tenants, was always doomed to failure under a Tory government, and Rent Officers were abolished – hence the totally unfettered rise in rents ever since, and the increasing undesirability of tenants on benefits.
So please, don’t try to present this as a new problem caused by changes in HB, because it’s not. It’s just that those changes have given landlords, and probably more of them than previously, the opportunity to legitimise a long-standing practice.