No DSS signs may cause rise in homelessness

Tenants receiving benefits are being alienated by landlords in the Birmingham area through the use of “No Dss” signs on their properties.

Dss is an antiquated term referring to the department of social security and all those receiving government benefits from them.

It seems that these signs are more prolific in the most deprived areas of the city with the cheapest rental properties including Great Barr, Erdington and Quinton which will inevitably make it more difficult for people receiving housing and other forms of benefit to find somewhere to live.

As a result of this people who are being forced to downsize due to the bedroom tax, may be left homeless as the waiting list for local authority housing continues to grow, despite a lack of new houses being built.

“The stereotypical views held by landlords about people receiving benefits is what’s lead us to this.” Amy Clements, 20, Erdington.

“We shouldn’t be made to feel unwanted by our own communities. My family have never been in any trouble with the law and the only reason I’m receiving benefits is because there just aren’t any jobs out there. I want to work but there’s just nothing for me and denying me a house simply because I can’t find a job is so unfair” Ben Steel, 23, Great Barr.

There has been debate over whether or not landlords are indirectly discriminating against the disabled through the signs. This is because many people with disabilities are unable to work and are forced to claim incapacity benefits.

I contacted several estate agents in the Birmingham area to question them about what they mean by “No DSS” and why they don’t accept it and received conflicting information from all of them.

A spokesperson from Andrews in Great Barr said:

“We don’t accept people receiving housing benefits. It’s our policy because the DSS department will only correspond with the tenant, not the landlord or letting agency meaning that if the tenant forgets to pay, we have no way of gaining access to the money. It’s actually the policy of Anderson’s who owns Andrew’s.”

A spokesperson from Anderson’s in Erdington commented:

“It’s down to the landlord’s individual choice whether or not they accept people on DSS”

This statement clearly contradicts that of Andrew’s who is a subsidiary of Anderson’s.

A representative of Green and Co state in Great Barr stated:

“It’s because of referencing affordability. Referencing companies won’t accept people on DSS because they are unable to provide them with a reference”.

However, when contacted for comment HomeLet, a referencing company authorised by the financial services department, stated:

“Referencing agencies will reference anyone. It’s the estate agents decision.”

I contacted a number of other letting agencies and was told the same thing by all of them. ‘It’s not the agency’s responsibility; it’s the landlord/referencing company’s decision’.

Humberstone homes in Quinton will not accept housing benefits, even if the tenant is already working. Whilst Green estate agents in Erdington will consider disability living allowance but no incapacity benefits or housing benefits, as is the same for Maplewood lettings, Homes for rent and Home point lettings.

Alastair Brownlow, a local private landlord said:

“I’ve found in the past that DSS tenants are less reliable in terms of cleanliness, the upkeep of the house and require me to be called out to the property more because of complaints from the neighbours”.

It is clear to see that landlords are basing their policies relating to DSS on misguided stereotypes of people receiving benefits however, in a time of triple dip recessions and of record numbers of unemployment, where university graduates who were once considered to be the most promising young minds in the country are coming straight out of university and into long term unemployment and more mature experienced workers are losing their jobs because it is no longer considered economical to employ them, the stereotypical ‘lazy doll dosser’ is no longer one that relates to our society. If discrimination against tenants receiving benefits continues, a rise in homelessness in the poorest areas of the country is unavoidable and once again, the most vulnerable of society will be worst affected.

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Dss discrimination continued

I contacted 15 letting agencies and landlords in the Birmingham area who do not allow Dss and questioned them about what form of benefit would not be accepted.

All of them said that it was people on housing benefits that they would not accept and when questioned about disability benefits, all said that people receiving this would be considered.

Whilst I will continue to contact landlords about this matter, it seems that discrimination against disabled people through “No Dss” signs is not a huge issue in the Birmingham area however, I have contacted the charity Scope about this and am still awaiting a reply.

Next I will contact letting agencies to question them about why they do not allow Dss and will find case studies and interviews from people who have been affected by this and may be further affected by the Bedroom Tax.

Dss discrimination?

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Landlords in the Birmingham area often use the term “no dss” when advertising their properties e.g. “no dss or pets.” This means the landlord will not accept any tenants that are receiving benefits however, as the term dss is no longer officially in use, the exact meaning of this is very ambiguous.

A number of estate agents operate under a blanket rule that they will not accept anyone who receives any sort of benefit. This includes disability allowance. If this is the case I plan to investigate into this further and explore whether or not by doing this, landlords are actually discriminating unlawfully.

I have read through the tenancy section of the 2010 equality act and there is nothing to say that landlords cannot do this however, I still feel this is an avenue that needs looking into. Therefore I will continue to contact landlords and letting agencies for comment and will contact the local council and disability charities for their take on the issue. Below is a link to a Guardian article from 2010 in which James Welch discusses the topic in detail:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/libertycentral/2010/oct/08/liberty-clinic-lettings-equality-acts