I really struggled to find somewhere that would take me as a tenant because I rely on benefits. I had to ask a friend to be a guarantor and although I did have someone willing to do that for me it was really embarrassing to ask for that kind of help at my age. [Diane, private tenant]
‘No DSS’ is a shorthand used by landlords and letting agents to show that they won’t rent to ‘Department of Social Security’ claimants. Whilst the Department of Social Security no longer exists landlords and letting agents across Scotland still use ‘No DSS’ policies and refuse to rent to people, like Diane, who receive benefits, principally Housing Benefit.
Tenants have been telling us this for a while, through both our advice and support services and our private tenant forum and panel, and you just need to scroll through some online ads to see it in practice.
To find out more we asked researchers at Heriot Watt University to investigate the extent of ‘No DSS’ practices in the private rented sector, the reasons behind ‘No DSS’ policies and what might be done to improve access for people in receipt of benefits in the future.
The research added weight to what tenants have told us: there is strong evidence that ‘No DSS’ policies are a significant issue for many private renters in Scotland. Around two thirds of private landlords would prefer not to let to tenants who claim Housing Benefit and about one fifth of private renters in Scotland claim Housing Benefit.
To unpack this issue we asked the researchers to look into the reasons why some landlords and letting agents don’t accept tenants who claim Housing Benefit; reasons included:
- problems with the level of Housing Benefit meaning that there might be a shortfall between the rent and Housing Benefit received,
- problems with the administration of Housing Benefit meaning that landlords worry they won’t get rent on time,
- landlords’ beliefs about claimants, for example from their previous bad experiences, or from stigma,
- policies used by mortgage lenders and insurers that stop landlords from letting to tenants who claim Housing Benefit, and
- the wider regulatory context in which private landlords operate.
So what can be done? Do tenants have to put up with this?
The research looked at what changes could be made to improve things for private renters who claim housing benefit, and this is where YOU come in. We want your views on what should be a priority, and what you think would make a difference:
- reverse UK government welfare reforms which have reduced the level of Housing Benefit paid to private tenants
- use the Scottish Government’s powers over benefits payments to improve access to the private rented sector for people who receive benefits,
- make sure the administration of Universal Credit and Housing Benefit is effective,
- introduce a ban on blanket ‘no DSS’ policies,
- introduce regulation and codes of practice to improve landlord and letting agent practice in letting to tenants who receive Housing Benefit,
- provide support and incentives to landlords to let to tenants who claim Housing Benefit,
- make sure sufficient support is available to private tenants who claim Housing Benefit,
- support and scale up schemes which help vulnerable tenants access the private rented sector.
We need to know what you think. Please tell us your views online, at this link: https://digitalscotland.typeform.com/to/ShlooI by the end of the day on Monday 13th November.
** Update: The deadline to complete the survey has now been extended to 11th December. **
Go go go!