Estate agency Haart has been named by a joint investigation into discrimination against tenants on housing benefit as a ‘worst offender’.
The allegation follows an undercover investigation by housing charity Shelter and the National Housing Federation (NHF) into how these tenants are treated within the private rented sector.
Haart says it does not discriminate against tenants who pay their rent wholly or partly with housing benefit, but has admitted that some of its branches are “misinformed”.
The company says it is working to ensure that its company-wide policy is being followed across the network and also says it is “sorry for any occasion where this has not been the case”.
Researchers from the two organisations phoned 149 branches across the UK and found that 10% rejected tenants on housing benefit outright. Approximately 1.6 million people rely on housing benefit every month to pay all or part of their rent to a private landlord.
“The worst offender out of the big brands investigated was Haart, with an outright ban in a third of the branches called,” Shelter said.
The Shelter/NHF research also reveals that 48% of the branches contacted across the UK said they had no suitable properties or landlords for housing benefit applicants, rather than rejecting them out of hand.
Statement from Haart
“It is not our policy to refuse housing benefit tenants – anyone who passes referencing checks is able to rent properties listed with our branches.
“We do regularly arrange tenancies for those claiming housing benefits and currently have 112 tenancies where this is the case. In certain instances, landlords may not be able to let properties to housing benefit tenants for a variety of reasons including lending and insurance criteria.
“Government policy on housing benefit, with payments made in arrears, has also made it more difficult for landlords who require rents to be paid in advance. Where landlords are not able to let to housing benefit tenants, we explain this and direct them to properties that are available.
“Where no properties are available we take their details to contact them when properties become available. This research has brought to light that some of our branches are misinformed and we are working to ensure that this policy is being followed across our network. We are sorry for any occasion where this has not been the case.”
ARLA blames the government and the banks rather than letting agents for the problems faced by tenants on housing benefit.
Its Chief Executive David Cox says: “This is a systemic problem with how housing benefit works.
“Rents are paid in advance, whereas housing benefit is paid in arrears, and therefore with such a shortage of rental accommodation, landlords and agents will naturally choose a tenant who can pay the rent when it is due, rather than a tenant who is always a month in arrears.
“We have called on Government time and time again to resolve this problem. But our calls have fallen on deaf ears.
“To make the situation worse, many lenders also have a clause in their buy-to-let mortgage agreements which prevent landlords from letting to housing benefit tenants.”
But Shelter says that many people on housing benefit have a “perfectly clean record, sometimes lasting 10 years or more and nothing suggest that they will default on the rent”.
Sheraz Dar, whose company CreditLadder is one of several that offers tenants a way to have their rental payments recognised, says: “One reason why landlords choose private tenants over those who are funded through housing benefit is that many landlords believe there is no way to measure a tenant’s likelihood of paying the rent on time and so they go for the safest option.”
“Tenants on housing benefit who enter the private rental market they can sign up with CreditLadder for free and have their rental payments recognised by us as long as some of their rent is paid through their bank account, helping prove to landlords that they are able to pay their rent on time and increasing their chances of getting access to a tenancy.”