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A few years ago my friend was looking at moving out. She was living with her partner, his parents and their baby, and as you can guess the house was pretty crowded.
At the time, she was at home looking after the baby and her partner was working. They would be eligible for housing benefit which they were so thankful for – their situation was not ideal and they desperately wanted to have their own space, live their lives and work. That, however, was easier said than done. Whenever she enquired whether or not a landlord would accept housing benefit, she was either met with a swift ‘no’ or simply ignored.
Now her baby has grown up and both parents are working – they are still entitled to housing benefit but cannot claim it. In August 2015, almost 5 million people claimed housing benefit – 4,791,205 to be precise. This number has been steadily dropping for months now but there is no one reason for this – are more people employed with good jobs (David Cameron is always eager to remind the public that unemployment has fallen… whilst the use of food banks, for example, has risen), are less people aware that they may be eligible for housing benefit, or could it be that fewer people are able to claim housing benefit as few landlords will accept it, such as in my friend’s case? Their situation is not a rare one – it’s common all over the country.
It’s not just the unemployed that are entitled to housing benefit. The low paid members of society are also eligible – in fact, 21% of all housing benefit recipients were employed in 2014, a total of over one million people. 2
So, already, you can see that it’s not just the demonised demographic of dirty benefit scroungers that are eligible for housing benefit – there’s the low-paid as well. Do these people not deserve a house? Should all unemployed and disabled people live on the street? No. Of course not. Yet finding accommodation that will accept housing benefit is not an easy task.
As a landlord, accepting housing benefit does not affect you. You are still getting your rent. Are landlords afraid that they will not get their money, as the benefit is paid to the tenant? Of course, this is an understandable fear but anyone could be late with the rent money. If a potential tenant has a good history and references, why block their chance to rent your property? It’s something I cannot understand – to put a blanket ban on all that claim housing benefit for fears that are often misguided.
Recently, I’ve been looking at finding a new place to rent (cheers landlord for selling the house) and it’s absolutely astonishing the amount of listings that say ‘no pets, no children, no DSS’. I actually saw one listing which said ‘Polish welcome but no housing benefits claimants’! How great this landlord must be, to trust a specific nationality of immigrants, but sweepingly generalise about anyone on benefits.
It is absolutely unacceptable to refuse someone because they claim housing benefit. It’s literally discrimination. Do landlords think that all claimants will trash their house, not pay the rent? I’m sure some people will do that because they are dicks, but those who work full time are also able to get into rent arrears, smash holes in the dry wall, or set fire to the carpet.
Of the 4,791,205 housing benefit claimants in August 2015, just 1,526,915 claimants were in privately rented accommodation. Three times as many were in social housing – 3,261,714. Perhaps one of the reasons that there is now an increase in demand in social housing is because fewer private landlords will accept housing benefit, meaning more people have no choice but to turn to the council to get a house.
What does a claimant have to do to persuade a landlord to be kind and take a chance on them? Should someone prove that they are paralysed, or provide proof that they are actively looking for work like they do to the Jobcentre? How absolutely ludicrous this sounds! Those on benefits already face enough prejudice from the public about their ability to work, likewise those who are unfortunate to be poorly paid are constantly reminded that they should just find a well-paid job and to shut up. Where someone’s money comes from – as long as it’s legal – is nobody’s business. If there’s proof that someone is capable of paying their rent on time and in full, then let them give you money in exchange for living in a house.
It’s like landlords are doing claimants a favour by graciously allowing them to be your tenant. Really, the focus should be less on the tenant and more on the dodgy landlords who take your money and run – but that’s an argument for another day.