Agents warned by Ombudsman: Don’t discriminate on DSS claimants

The Property Ombudsman is warning agents not to discriminate against tenants through a No DSS or any similar policy.

Following the legal victories of two tenants winning out-of-court settlements against lettings agents, TPO has also confirmed that it will “consider” obtaining Assured Advice and strengthening its codes of practice to clearly prohibit No DSS clauses in rental advertisements.

TPO has issued a statement reminding agents of existing codes stating that they must:

“1e treat consumers equally regardless of their race, religion or belief, sex, sexual orientation, gender recognition, disability, pregnancy or maternity, or nationality. Unlawful discrimination includes giving less favourable treatment because someone is perceived to have one of these personal characteristics or because they are associated with a person with such a characteristic”

and

“1f take special care when dealing with consumers who might be disadvantaged because of factors such as their age, infirmity, lack of knowledge, lack of linguistic or numeracy ability, economic circumstances, bereavement or do not speak English as a first language.”

In 2019, TPO handled 881 complaints in relation to agent’s general obligations, specifically relating to 1e and 1f of the Codes of Practice for Residential Letting Agents.

The new statement from the Ombudsman’s offices says it recognises these are not all linked to No DSS cases but “the figure still highlights that approximately 17 per cent of all complaints last year were linked to some form of discrimination. For the avoidance of doubt, economic circumstances include tenants who are in receipt of benefits.”

TPO says it knows that some mortgage lenders and insurance providers specifically exclude tenants in receipt of Housing Benefit, in which case it would expect agents to evidence that and give an explanation to prospective tenants on an individual basis.

TPO Katrine Sporle says: “Whilst rental properties are investments for landlords, they are homes for tenants. To be excluded from a significant portion of the homes available simply because you are in receipt of Housing Benefits cannot be considered as treating consumers equally. Tenants’ perceptions that they have been unfairly discriminated against underpin the significant number of the complaints received.

“TPO agrees that adverts which discriminate against would-be tenants in receipt of Housing Benefit should end. Making sure no one is excluded from applying for the home of their choice will go some way to reducing these complaints.”

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