Discrimination in the housing sector

At least 1 in 10 rental properties in England are likely to be advertised unlawfully by explicitly discriminating against people who rely on housing benefit, new research from the National Housing Federation and Shelter shows.

The analysis of around 86,000 letting agent adverts on Zoopla shows that 8,710 adverts for different residential properties in England say ‘no DSS’ or ‘no housing benefit’.


A shortage of social housing and high house prices have led to rapidly growing numbers of people having to rent privately and depend on housing benefit. There are now more than 1.4 million people in this situation in England. Women and people with disabilities are disproportionately in this situation and therefore affected by discrimination. Indirectly discriminating against woman and people with disabilities, by banning people on housing benefit, is likely to violate the 2010 Equality Act.

The analysis from the two housing charities reveals the discrimination is far more prevalent in some parts of the country:

Area Percentage of adverts that said ‘No DSS’
North Cumbria 59%
West Cumbria 38%
Gloucester 35%
Lincoln 34%
Halifax 32%
Worthing 31%
Weston Super Mare 29%
Oldham & Rochdale 29%
Thameside & Glossop 29%
Wolds & Coast 27%

Worryingly, these explicitly discriminatory adverts are only the tip of the iceberg. Many other adverts imply that DSS is not accepted by saying ‘professionals only’. Previous research from Shelter and the National Housing Federation revealed how many housing benefit tenants are rejected by letting agents over the phone, regardless of whether they can afford the rent or not.

Zoopla are not the only online property platform to facilitate this potentially unlawful practice. Previous research has found numerous discriminatory adverts across all major property platforms including RightMove, SpareRoom.com and OpenRent.

The research also uncovers the wider discrimination faced by housing benefit tenants online. In an undercover investigation, two versions of an almost identical application to landlords on SpareRoom.com and Gumtree. Shockingly, a woman posing as someone on housing benefit was more than twice as likely to be rejected by landlords, compared to a woman who wasn’t.

The National Housing Federation and Shelter have joined forces to urge letting agents and landlords to end this likely unlawful practice. They are also calling on online property websites to stop facilitating this grossly unfair discrimination.

Polly Neate, Chief Executive of Shelter says “It’s staggering to see this discrimination laid out in black and white - and brazenly enforced by letting agents, landlords and online property websites. ‘No DSS’ is outdated, offensive and causing misery for thousands.

“Families are finding themselves barred from renting homes time and time again, simply because they need a Housing Benefit top up. At a time when colossal private rents are out of reach for so many, that seems absurd.

“Not only is ‘No DSS’ grossly unfair, it is likely to be unlawful because it overwhelming affects women and disabled people. That’s why we need the lettings industry to stop blaming each other, accept its role in this shocking practice and clean up its act.”