No DSS, No DWP, No Benefits - Updated Guidance for Lettings Professionals
The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has now clarified advice the CMA’s guidance for lettings professionals on consumer protection law. How did we get here? Shelter started their campaign "Stop DSS Discrimination" in 2018, which lead to examining blanket adverts that stated "No DSS", “considered” by Shelter to be discriminatory. The campaign lead to the property portals restricting the use of the phrase "No DSS" and some major lenders removing the restriction within their mortgage agreements. The CMA has now updated guidance in relation to the way in which properties to be let are advised and what can or cannot be said within the advert.
However, there are some key points to bear in mind:-
1. DSS - Department of Social Security no longer exists - DWP - Department of Work & Pensions replaced DSS many many years ago.
2. The statement "No DSS/No DWP" does NOT just refer to Housing Benefit (as it was once known), it refers to ALL benefits, including disability.
3. The restrictions have been in place (lenders & insurers) because of the risk associated with the benefit system - Payment in arrears, readjusting payments depending on changes of circumstances, stopping payments, claw-back and fraudulent claims, etc
4. The Equality Act 2010 does NOT cite No DSS/No DWP/No Benefits as one of the Protected Characteristics. In fact, the Consultation for abolishing section 21, makes reference to the Protected Characteristics & the Equality Act 2010, so perhaps the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government may look into imposing a legal restriction on the use of these terms.
The Guidance from the CMA is as follows:-
In the documentation you (agent) give to prospective tenants, make sure all material information is clear and prominent and draw this to the tenant’s attention. This includes any restrictions on the type of tenant (such as housing benefit claimants), or circumstances in which a guarantor may be required (for example if required for student tenants, or tenants earning below a certain income level).
The CMA included circumstances where a property cannot be let by a landlord to those on housing benefit, i.e. when a term of a contract specifies this, as this would constitute material information for would -be tenants. W here such restrictions do exist they need to be brought to the attention of prospective tenants. The inclusion of housing benefit claimants as an example does not justify or excuse letting agents or property portals having blanket bans against those on housing benefit.
If there is a restrictive term in a contract (mortgage agreement or insurance policy) then the specific term should be included in the property listing so tenants are aware. Do not second guess or mislead, as if challenged you must have evidence to support this claim
If there is NO restriction, do not mention there is as this would be deemed a “misleading term”.
Further information and detail can be found Consumer protection law for lettings professionals: CMA31