Landlords to be banned from discriminating against benefit claimants and families with children

The government says it is reforming the private rental sector, but has faced questions over its delay to ban Section 21 no-fault evictions. Credit: ITV News

Landlords and letting agents will be banned from openly discriminating against families with children and benefit claimants, the government has announced.

Adverts for homes that carry the terms "No children" and "No DSS" would be illegal under the plans, which the government has added to its Renters Reform Bill. The legislation is currently going through Parliament.

'No DSS' refers to the long defunct Department of Social Security, and has been used by landlords and letting agents to refer to anyone in receipt of benefits to stop them from applying to rent a property.

It is not a new announcement - the government has been promising to ban 'No DSS' since 2019 - and landlords will still be able to carry out tenancy affordability checks and have the ultimate say on who rents their property.

Rents are currently at an all time high. Credit: PA

In 2020, a landmark ruling at York County Court found it was unlawful to discriminate against a housing benefit claimant and in breach of the Equality Act, but the English Private Landlord Survey in 2021/22 found one in ten private renters said they’d been refused a tenancy in the past 12 months because they received benefits.

Housing charity Shelter have previously estimated that 289,506 families are affected by a 'no kids' stipulation.

The ban would cover properties in England and Wales.

"We hope this marks the beginning of the end of discrimination and drives up standards in renting," says Polly Neate, Chief Execute of Shelter.

“For too long, landlords have used unfair no child and no housing benefit policies to lock people out of renting without just cause. Even when people can afford the rent, they’re ending up homeless because of this baseless prejudice.

"Once it becomes illegal, the government must not let more underhanded forms of discrimination take the place of blanket bans."

Private rental properties will also be subject to minimum standards of safety and decency for the first time to ensure renters "safe, warm and decent homes".

The Decent Homes Standard (DHS) was introduced by New Labour, but currently only applies to council and housing association properties.

Nearly one million private rented properties are estimated to fall below the current Decent Homes Standard, according to the English Housing Survey - which accounts for 23% of all occupied privately rented homes.

“Everyone deserves a home that is safe, warm and decent. But far too many live in conditions that fall well below what is acceptable," said Housing Secretary Michael Gove.

"As part of our Long-Term Plan for Housing we are improving housing standards across the entire private rented sector, while also ending discrimination against vulnerable people and families who are being unfairly denied access to a home.”

ITV News has exposed appalling and dangerous conditions in social housing properties, where councils and housing associations failed to act despite being bound by the Decent Homes Standard (DHS).

A lack of proper regulation and limited punishment for social landlords has been blamed for a fall in housing standards, with the government forced to step in with changes to the law in the Social Housing Regulation Bill.

The decision to extended the DHS to millions of homes in the private rental sector, where there is even less regulation and accountability for private landlords than in the social housing sector, prompts questions over how effectively it will be policed.

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities says local councils "will be given new enforcement powers to require landlords to make properties decent, with fines up to £30,000 or a banning order in the worse cases. Tenants will also be able to claim up to 24 months rent back through rent repayment orders up from 12 previously".

Councils will also be given stronger powers to investigate and ban landlords who rent substandard homes, according to the department.

Across the country, the standard of housing enforcement varies drastically from council to council. ITV News has spoken to tenants who have contacted their local council about issues with their landlord, but little to no action has been taken.

As ever, it comes down to resources. Having new powers is one thing, having the funding to hire the manpower to use it is another.

“Poor conditions in private renting are rife and they are ruining too many people’s lives but for the Decent Homes Standard to make a difference to England’s 11 million renters, councils’ ability to enforce it will be key," says Ms Neate.

Labour Deputy Leader Angela Rayner says 'irresponsible landlords' are getting away with throwing people out of their home. ITV News has heard from some of those who have been left with no home and nowhere to go

The government will not confirm how much, if any, extra money will be given to councils to enforce the DHS across 4.6 million privately rented homes.

I understand councils will be able to keep the income they generate through fines, and funding will be given to certain councils with a higher concentration of private rental properties that fall below the DHS.

The government appears instead hoping that the majority of landlords will adhere to the new standard, allowing councils to concentrate on targeting "the small minority of irresponsible and criminal landlords".

It comes as the government continues to face pressure over its to decision to delay banning no-fault evictions until the courts are reformed.

In an interview with ITV News, Labour's Deputy Leader and Housing spokesperson Angela Rayner says irresponsible landlords are being "emboldened" by the government's lack of action in scrapping Section 21, which ministers first said they would end in 2019.

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