Single mum 'feels like a failure' as Bristol landlords reject her due to housing benefit

A mum from Bristol says she 'feels like a failure' after hitting so many barriers in the private rental sector.

Emily, 24 and a single mother, is studying for her GCSEs so she can train to become a midwife. She works part-time and claims housing benefits to top-up her income.

She has been searching for a flat to rent in the city for six months as her current landlord has decided to sell this year.

But Emily says as soon as a landlord or letting agency finds out she gets government support, her application is rejected.

Speaking to ITV News, Emily said: "As soon as I find a suitable property online or whatever I ring them up straight away.

"Tell them I'm a working professional, I'm studying part-time. I've got a daughter. Everything's great, they're fine.

Emily says she has never missed a payment, has a guarantor and has even offered six months up front. Credit: ITV West Country

"As soon as they ask about my yearly income and I say, this is what I get from my job, this is what I get from housing benefit or anything else, they just don't want to know.

"They just say 'no' straight away or 'oh sorry we've given it so somebody else' within the same sentence."

Emily added: "I have a clear credit history, can get a guarantor and even offered six months rent upfront every single estate agent landlord says no to housing benefit even though there’s rules saying they can’t do that."

She says the system is "broken" and "needs to be changed".

"The experience is completely draining and really played a part on my mental health," she added. "If I can’t find somewhere to rent before my flat is sold I will end up homeless.”

Shelter Bristol said 27% of renters in Bristol rely on housing benefits to pay their rent. Credit: ITV West Country

What is income discrimination?

Income discrimination is when people who claim government benefits are put at a disadvantage when trying to apply for a new property to rent.

Some landlords and letting agents are finding ways to avoid renting to people who receive housing benefits.

Shelter is campaigning to put an end to income discrimination in the private rental sector as it is disproportionately affecting minority groups.

According to Shelter, certain groups of people who rely on housing benefit are more likely to be impacted by income discrimination:

  • Women, like single mothers: x1.5

  • Ethnic groups, like black and Bangladeshi households: x2 and x1.7 respectively

  • People with disabilities: x5

Jonathan Reilly McVittie, the advice team leader at Shelter Bristol, said: "Shelter has challenged these blanket bans in court, these 'No DSS' policies in court.

"It's been found to be unlawful under the Equality Act to actually have a blanket policy to say that because you claim benefits you can't rent this property.

"Landlords and letting agents have to consider each applicant on an individual basis.

"The reason why this is unlawful is because it disproportionately affects certain people with protective characteristics. "

Demand for private rentals in the south west has soared in recent years. Credit: ITV West Country

Why are landlords and letting agents doing this?

The National Residential Landlords Association (NRLA) says demand for private rentals, especially in the South West, has soared since the start of the pandemic.

This means the landlords are spoilt for choice on who lives in their properties.

Chris Norris, director of policy and campaigns, explained: "All of the qualifications or the caveats that a landlord puts into an advert are not there to discriminate against any particular type of person or type of household.

"What landlords are trying to do is minimise the risk to them of default.

"I think what you're seeing as more common now is an income multiplier. You have to earn two or three times than the advertised rent in order to be able to sustain this tenancy.

"They're doing that because people who can met those criteria or less likely, in their experience, to default on the rent."

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