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Today in politics: Benefits, flooding and electrical safety

Today in politics: Benefits, flooding and electrical safety.

The property ombudsman has today warned agents must not discriminate against benefit tenants. We look at what she has to say, along with new figures on the number of elderly renters living in poverty and benefit overpayments. We also look at what the government has to say on support for tenants in flood risk areas. 

Property ombudsman warns agents must not discriminate

Following the legal victories of two tenants who have both won out-of-court settlements against “No DSS” letting agents, The Property Ombudsman (TPO) has issued a reminder to its member agents of their obligations not to discriminate. 

TPO has also confirmed it will consider obtaining Assured Advice and strengthening its Codes of Practice in the next update to clearly prohibit ‘No DSS’ clauses in rental advertisements.

Amanda Staples and Emma Loffler both won out-of-court settlements against “No DSS” letting agents on the grounds of indirect discrimination. 

Under clause 1e and 1f of The Property Ombudsman’s Code of Practice for Residential Letting Agents, agents are reminded 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.
  • 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.

Economic circumstances include tenants who are in receipt of benefits. Setting out TPO’s stance on the issue, Katrine Sporle, Property Ombudsman, said:

“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.”

She said that where mortgage lenders / insurance providers specifically exclude tenants in receipt of Housing Benefit agents should evidence that and give an explanation to prospective tenants individually.

The RLA has reminded landlords they should not impose blanket bans – but said the situation remains a complex one – and that more is needed to address issues of affordability in the sector. The association attended high level talks on the issue at Downing Street last year.

18% of additional pensioners living in poverty are in PRS, says new report

The Centre for Ageing Better and Care & Repair England have today published a report suggesting that more than two million over-55s are living in a home that endangers their health or wellbeing. It says:

  • The majority of people living in a non-decent home are homeowners (2.8 million), followed by the private rented sector (1.1 million), which has the highest proportion of non-decent homes (one in five).
  • Although the majority of people will retire as homeowners, “there is a rising percentage living in private rented accommodation and a decreasing proportion in social rented homes.”
  • Numerically “the largest rise in those living in poverty is amongst homeowners, albeit that the largest percentage increase is amongst social and private rented tenants. Of the 330,000 additional pensioners in poverty since 2012/13, 140,000 are homeowners, 60,000 are private renters and 130,000 are social renters.”
  • The PRS “has a particular issue with thermal comfort, with 40% of homes failing the non-decent homes standard for this reason. This trend rises significantly with age, with 60% of households headed by someone aged 75 and over classified as insufficiently warm, compared to 37% of those under 55 years old.”
  • Comparing across tenure types, the private rented sector has the highest median cost to bring a property to a decent standard, requiring an average spend of £3,762.

Housing benefit of £329 million overpaid in six months 

The Department for Work and Pensions has published the latest data on the amount of Housing Benefit overpaid to claimants, the overpayments recovered and amounts written off. 

It reports that during Quarters 1 and 2 of 2019/20:

  • £329 million of Housing Benefit overpayments were identified
  • £297 million of Housing Benefit overpayments were recovered
  • £37 million of Housing Benefit overpayments were written off

Government pressed on help for tenants in flood risk areas

Dame Diana Johnson MP (Labour, Kingston upon Hull North) has received a response to her written question asking what steps the government is taking to protect people living in rented accommodation in flood-risk areas who cannot afford flood insurance premiums.

The Minister for floods, Rebecca Pow MP, responded: 

“Flood Re, launched in 2016, is a joint initiative between government and industry designed to improve the availability and affordability of flood insurance for households at high risk of flooding. Flood Re allows insurance companies to pass on the flood risk element of household insurance policies to them for a below market-rate set premium.

“For renters, insurers can ask Flood Re to cover the flood risk part of a contents insurance policy, as long as the property meets certain criteria, including: being used for private; residential purposes; having a domestic Council Tax band A to H; being a single residential unit or building comprising two or three units; being insured on an individual basis; and being built before 01/01/2009.”

The Government’s Flood Re scheme was set up to help homeowners whose properties were at risk of flooding – but excludes the PRS as buy-to-let homes are considered a commercial undertaking.

You can read more on the issue here.

Lords to consider electrical safety and CMP regulations

The House of Lords is due to consider and agree the following regulations on 16th March:

  • Draft Electrical Safety Standards in the Private Rented Sector (England) Regulations 2020
  • Draft Client Money Protection for Property Agents (Approval and Designation of Schemes) (Amendment) Regulations 2020


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