Landlords are more likely to accept potential renters who own pets than people claiming benefits, a BBC investigation has found.
Analysis of some 11,000 online listings for spare rooms found all but a few hundred stated benefit claimants were not welcome.
Campaign groups say it is “naked discrimination” and are calling for a change in the law.
Landlords say more social housing needs to be built.
The BBC England data unit analysed listings on the website SpareRoom, looking at London and 18 other towns and cities across England.
- Out of 11,806 adverts for rooms to let, just 2% were open to people on benefits.
- The website’s listings showed not a single vacancy for a benefit claimant in Bournemouth, Exeter, Leicester, Liverpool, Norwich, Oxford or Reading.
- Plymouth had the highest rate of acceptance, but even that was just 10% of rooms, 15 out of 144.
- Across the 19 areas with the most available rooms, there were twice as many lets that accepted pets as accepted housing benefit claimants.
It is a similar pattern on another house sharing website.
On OpenRent.co.uk, just 580 out of 3,342 listings accepted people on benefits.
The websites specify “No to DSS” in flatmate preferences. DSS is the acronym for the Department of Social Security, which was replaced in 2001 by the Department for Work and Pensions.
Campaign group Digs, which supports people renting in Hackney, said barring benefit claimants was “naked discrimination”.
Spokeswoman Heather Kennedy said: “People claim housing benefit for different reasons, including because they’re disabled, caring for others or escaping a violent relationship. And as rents have sky-rocketed and wages stagnate, more and more working people are having to claim benefits to cover their rent.
“Landlords and agents have far too much power in relation to ordinary people. The only way to fix this is proper regulation, to protect people from a rental market which the government have now finally accepted is badly broken.”
Roger Harding, a director at the homelessness charity Shelter, said: “We all know how difficult and stressful it can be to find somewhere to live.
“But, for the many renters who rely on local housing allowance to top up their income in order to meet the rent, finding somewhere to live is almost impossible.
Mr Harding said the government’s freeze on housing allowance had left “little incentive for landlords to want to rent to people whose pockets are starting to feel the pinch”.
The National Landlords Association said cuts in welfare meant benefit payments in many parts of the country “no longer cover the rent”.
It said the private rented sector now accounted for 19% of UK households and had doubled in size since 2002, while social housing had fallen and now made up 17% of households.
Richard Lambert, chief executive of the association, said: “Most landlords support the construction of social housing as a better investment of government funds.
“Not only would this mean more housing available and affordable for those most in need, it would also relieve the pressure on the private sector that creates the breeding ground for the minority of rogues and criminals who get away with providing substandard housing.”
The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) said on Thursday that access to private rented properties was falling among people on housing benefits.
A survey of private landlords found caps to housing benefits were cited by 29% of respondents as a key reason why those on lower incomes were being pushed out of the rental market.
Matt Hutchinson, director of SpareRoom, said: “It’s a sad fact it can be a real struggle to find places to rent if you rely on benefits.
“When we’ve surveyed landlords to find out why, the overwhelming response has been issues with rent being paid in full or on time.
“In the long term the best course of action isn’t to stop discrimination against people receiving benefits, it’s to reverse the decision taken in the 1980s to subsidise people, rather than things.
“We spend £27bn a year on Housing Benefit. If we spent that on building homes, rather than helping people afford ever escalating costs, we could solve the housing crisis.”
The Department for Work and Pensions said under Universal Credit housing costs and support are paid direct to the tenant, not the landlord. That would mean the only way a landlord would be aware a tenant was in receipt of support would be if the claimant themselves told them.
The Department for Communities and Local Government declined to comment.
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