Rogue landlords in Scotland who reject tenants who are claiming benefits are facing a legal crackdown.
Scottish Government Housing minister Kevin Stewart has condemned the practice and said they could face being stripped of licences under “fit and proper” test rules.
The problem is contributing to the “housing emergency” in Scotland, according to watchdogs, who believe the situation is aggravated by the introduction of Universal Credit and the way rents are paid. They are calling for new laws, including a ban on so called “No DSS” adverts.
Stewart has told MSPs that the government is looking at how the statutory guidance for local authorities on landlord registration can be “strengthened.” “Evidence of unlawful discrimination must also be considered as part of the fit and proper person test for landlords and any letting agents that act on their behalf,” he said in a Holyrood answer.
“The use of the term “no DSS’ in some adverts for private rented sector properties is something the Scottish Government strongly disapproves of,” he said.
It is not illegal for landlords or letting agencies to advertise for tenants who are not in receipt of benefits. But a flagship case in the Midlands last year saw single mother Rosie Keogh win compensation for sex discrimination after being refused as a tenant because she was on state benefit. She argued the ban discriminated against women.
“The reluctance, or in many cases outright refusal, of private landlords to let to tenants in receipt of Housing Benefit – the ‘No DSS’ advertisements – contributes towards people being unable to find anywhere to live that they can afford on their income, and is exacerbating the housing emergency,” said Mhoraig Green, social affairs spokesperson with Citizens Advice Scotland.
“The Scottish Government should consider options, including legislation, to prevent landlords from excluding recipients of benefits when advertising lets.”
There are currently more than 150,000 Scots on council housing waiting lists in Scotland, she added, and accommodating all of this tranche on benefits in social housing is not feasible, meaning that social housing can only be part of the solution.
John Blackwood, chief executive of the Scottish Association of Landlords (SAL), said: “One of SAL’s top priorities is to ensure our members do not discriminate against anyone when renting out a home and condemn any landlord posting a notice which appears to so.”
But he admitted the shift to Universal Credit has seen more tenants in rent arrears and at “increased risk of homelessness”. He said the housing component of Universal Credit should be paid directly to landlords to help address this.
He added: “In addition, SAL is in the middle of a programme of events around Scotland in partnership with the DWP to address this exact issue and give landlords the information they need to ensure they continue to rent to those in receipt of Universal Credit.
“We have already been to Perth and Dundee with these events with Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen still to come.”