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Thousands of letting agents and landlords across the UK could be breaching equality laws by rejecting tenants claiming housing benefit, according to recent research from Shelter and the National Housing Federation. The study discovered that 20 percent of letting agents located in England, some of which were acting on instructions from their landlord clients, are possibly breaking the law by placing ‘No DSS’ in their adverts which discriminate against those claiming housing benefit. This violates the Equality Act of 2010.

Approximately 86,000 adverts placed by letting agents on property website Zoopla, from around 8,785 different branches of letting agents in England were analysed as part of the study. One fifth (1,757) of adverts featured some form of discrimination against people living on housing benefit. Chief executive at the National Housing Federation, Kate Henderson, stated that it is shameful that 20 percent of branches of letting agents are potentially acting unlawfully when openly discriminating against people claiming housing benefits. She explains it is probable that many more letting agents are openly discriminating, but the research conducted highlights those who are willing to discriminate brazenly on the internet.

These outdated practices are revealed to not only push people, especially women, into homelessness, but by acting in this manner, they are probably breaking the law. Ms Henderson claims that there is no longer an excuse for letting agents to do so, and that they must now do the right thing, legally and morally, and cease discrimination. Earlier this year, Rosie Keogh, a single mother, won a compensation case for sex discrimination against a letting agency who refused to consider her for a tenancy in a property located in the Kings Heath region of Birmingham, once she revealed that a portion of her rent payments would be covered by benefits.

Ms Keogh, a former paralegal and cleaner, successfully appealed that blanket bans on claimants of benefits indirectly discriminated against women, particularly single women, who are proportionately more likely to claim housing benefits than single men. She had been residing at the same property for the past 11 years, and made rent payments in full each month.

After her first letter of complaint to the agent was dismissed, the mother of one went to the county court and issued a claim of discrimination. Ms Keogh explained that she felt she had to challenge the agent’s decision, and was motivated by anger, as she felt like a second-class citizen, as well as proving the inequitable practice. As people on housing benefits are being treated differently by letting agents, it is women, and women with children, who are suffering the worst because they must work part-time and therefore top their income up by claiming housing benefit.

A survey questioning 1,137 private landlords conducted by Shelter, the housing charity, found last year that 43 percent had an outright ban in place to let to housing benefit claimants. A further 18 percent of those questioned preferred not to rent property to benefit claimants. Ms Keogh was supported by Shelter in her case, where Rose Arnall, the legal officer, commented that by applying blanket policies on renting to benefit claimants, landlords and letting agents are preventing good, reliable tenants from accessing the private rented sector.

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