News Policy

It’s time to say ‘yes to DSS’

James Battye
Written by James Battye

The message from private renters is clear: ‘No DSS’ adverts or policies are encountered far too often – and it is time something was done about that.

‘No DSS’ means landlords and letting agents won’t rent to someone claiming housing benefit, and while many private renters can and do claim housing benefit, our engagement with renters shows that this is still a significant barrier for many.

To get a better idea of the scale of the problem and develop solutions, we asked researchers to look into: how prevalent ‘no DSS’ policies are, why they’re used, and what can be done about them.

Opening up private renting to people who claim housing benefit

The research added weight to what renters already knew: ‘No DSS’ is a widespread problem. Next, to help draw up concrete solutions to this problem, the researchers suggested a suite of options, including:

  • reversing 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
  • 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 need it
  • support and scale up schemes which help vulnerable tenants access the private rented sector.

We then engaged with renters on what, in their view, should be done about ‘No DSS’ policies based on the above options.[1]

So, what should be done about ‘No DSS’ policies?

By far the most popular option was introducing a ban on blanket ‘No DSS’ policies. This would make it unlawful for letting agents and landlords to say that they don’t accept tenants who might need to rely on housing benefit.

Also popular were proposals to reverse welfare reforms which have reduced the level of housing benefit paid to private renters, and making sure that housing benefit and Universal Credit works.

Further down the list of priorities, but receiving strong support nonetheless, were introducing regulations and codes of practice to improve landlord and letting agent practice when it comes to renting to tenants who receive housing benefit. Scaling up schemes to help vulnerable tenants access the private rented sector – e.g. rent deposit guarantee schemes – was talked about positively.

Finally, a common theme across all the feedback private renters gave us was that the on the ground enforcement of any proposal was critical – as was the need to reverse the stigma associated with claiming housing benefit.

Saying ‘yes to DSS’

Taking all of this in account there are three steps that can be taken to improve private renting:

  1. Private landlords and letting agents should not be excluding tenants simply because they cover their rent with the help of housing benefit. ‘No DSS’ is wrong and should not be used as a reason not to offer a property to someone in need of a home.
  1. It has to be recognised that there are reasons why this practice has emerged in the private rented sector. Yes, this is partly due to undeserved stigma which needs to end, but it is also down to government policies which have made the private rented sector less affordable to tenants who rely on housing benefit. The UK government should provide adequate funding to Local Housing Allowance to make private renting more affordable.
  1. Beyond the level of housing benefit paid to private tenants there is also an issue with how benefits are administered. Many tenants, landlords and agents expressed frustration with errors and delays. Councils and the Department of Work and Pensions need to administer housing benefit and Universal Credit better.

If these steps are taken a private rented sector will emerge that is less discriminatory and provides tenants who need to claim housing benefit, for whatever reason, with a home.

The full report on views from private renters on how best to tackle ‘No DSS’ policies is available to read on our website.

[1] In total we engaged with 13 people, 12 of whom currently rent or had done in the past.

About the author

James Battye

James Battye

I manage Shelter Scotland’s Oak Foundation funded private rented sector project work. The project is focussed on increasing private tenants’ consumer voice in Scotland, supporting new initiatives to encourage best-practice amongst letting agents and working with private landlords in Dundee and Lochaber to improve standards.