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Helping the Hard Pressed

Thursday April 16, 2020

Discrimination of any kind is a dreadful thing and while we have made great strides in recent decades, there is still a way to go. Notting Hill today is highly des-res, the abode of Luvvies, hedge funders and people who buy Gwyneth Paltrow products. In my parents’ day it was very different. A local slum landlord called Peter Rachman was so notorious that the work ‘Rachmanism’ is now in the Oxford English Dictionary as a synonym for the exploitation and intimidation of tenants.

Back then it was not unusual to see signs proclaiming “Rooms to rent. No foreigners. No dogs”. Try that today and you will be invited for a meeting at your local police station and biscuits will not be provided. Today it is illegal to discriminate on grounds of race, religion, sexual orientation or gender. Police can now record a hate crime where there is no hate crime. I have no intention of trying to get my head around that one. It seems if you call someone a nit on social media, that is a hate crime without hatred?

This latter is an example of our dilemma in identifying discrimination. Where does genuine protection for minorities end and how do we define discrimination? A current hot topic in the lettings sector is discrimination against prospective tenants in receipt of Universal Credits. The ‘No foreigners. No dogs’ sign may be consigned to the dust bin of history, but “No DSS” has appeared in advertisements for properties to rent.

Cases of this discrimination have been brought and resulted in out of court settlements, which is a shame. If the matter had been brought before a Judge, we would have a clear legal ruling.

The Property Ombudsman will soon require lettings agents not to use a ‘No DSS’ clause. Yet, we have a duty to our landlords to assure them that the tenant can pay the rent.

Banks and mortgage providers frequently include a ‘No DSS’ clause in their terms and conditions. Freeholders can make No DSS a requirement when agreeing to a sub-letting contract for leaseholders.

This fuzziness in the regulations leaves the poor benefits claimant no further forward. Yes, the offensive ‘No DSS’ tag will be removed from advertisements. But it will still be buried in the terms and conditions of lenders, insurance underwriters and freeholders.

I will say again. Discrimination of any kind is a dreadful thing. But in most cases, discrimination has its roots in ignorance. Groups tend to be discriminated against because other groups simply do not understand them.

I leave the last word to Nelson Mandela who said “We pledge ourselves to liberate all our people from the continuing bondage of poverty, gender and other discrimination”. While Nelson had bigger issues to grapple, I for one will be quietly proud when my industry moves towards helping, rather than discriminating against, Universal Credit claimants and low-income families.

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