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Is discrimination stepping on the toes of common sense?

by ARPM

As providers of property management services, it’s our duty to keep track of new laws, guidance and property acts, and we’ve noticed that discrimination is a recurring theme.

It’s a topic that is divisive and contentious but one that carries ramifications for the entire lettings industry, so its impact on agencies should be discussed.

Of course, agents need to be mindful of the ‘protected characteristics’ when vetting tenants, but they need to retain power when it comes to a person’s ability to pay the rent and respect a property, no matter who the tenant is.

Agents are justified in being worried by the Housing Minister’s announcement that she wants to end prejudice against tenants claiming housing benefits by banning the term ‘no DSS’ in lettings adverts.

Areas of concern

While it is ill-informed to suggest all tenants receiving housing benefit cause trouble, there are areas of concern. Take Universal Credit for example – the all-in-one payment that’s being rolled out to replace housing and other benefits. Whereas housing benefit was paid straight to the landlord, Universal Credit is paid to the consumer, who has to make their own arrangements to pay the landlord.

The TV show Skint Britain: Friends Without Benefits has already found that rent arrears in areas where Universal Credit has been introduced have, worryingly, doubled. It has also been suggested that the amalgamated payment is far less than the sum from multiple benefits, leaving people financially worse-off.

Discrimination was also the motivation for a new High Court decision. It recently ruled that Right to Rent checks were a breach of the Human Rights Act, after a challenge from the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants and the Residential Landlords Association. The High Court decided that the process of checking a tenant’s immigration status led to discrimination against non-UK nationals and British ethnic minorities, and the scrapping of Right to Rent is a distinct possibility.

What’s next?

While many will cheer at the thought of Right to Rent being abolished, the fact that groups can mount such challenges has left agents worrying what might be next. Banning ’no pets’ in adverts or forcing landlords to take high-risk tenants for fear of offending someone? More rulings about discrimination will leave letting agents walking on eggshells unless there is clear guidance. Thankfully, the final decision on who moves in to a property still lies with the landlord…..for now.

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