Income inequality: the reality of private renting


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Continued demolition of social housing and a failure to build new homes to replace it has led to a net loss of 165,000 social homes in the last 10 years. Because of this, there’s been a steady increase in the number of houses that are privately rented, reaching a total of 4.6 million in 2023. 

Currently, not enough is being done to protect private renters from prejudice and discrimination from landlords and letting agents. The use of blanket rules that discriminate particular groups is unlawful under the Equality Act 2010. However, over a quarter of landlords agree with the statement ‘It’s natural that stereotypes and prejudices come into it when I decide who to let to’, and over half say they’d rather not rent to people receiving housing benefits.

Research by Shelter shows that prejudice is rife in the private rented sector. Despite it being unlawful, many landlords are flat out refusing to rent to people who receive benefits. In some cases, instead of refusing, they simply ask for extortionate payments upfront to price people who receive benefits out of the picture.

In this week’s blog, we’re taking a look at how prejudice in the private rented sector is negatively impacting individuals and families across the country. 

Disabled renters

There are roughly 16 million disabled people living in the UK, and 6.3 million people who are entitled to receive a disability benefit. Due to the lack of social housing, over 18% of disabled people in England rely on private renting. 

That means that, when landlords are biased against tenants who receive benefits, this disproportionately affects people living with a disability. Because of this prejudice, renters with a disability are 50% more likely to be unable to rent a home because they can’t afford large upfront payments, and they’re 35% more likely to be asked for a guarantor than people without a disability.

Black renters

Shockingly, nearly 10% of Black renters report being denied housing because of their race, compared to 0.3% of White renters. Not only is that appalling, it’s a direct violation of the Equality Act.

On top of the racial prejudice, Black renters are also more likely to face benefit-related discrimination. Black and Bangladeshi families are the most likely of any ethnicity to receive income-related benefits, including help with the cost of housing.

Black renters are also four times more likely than White renters to be asked for multiple (upwards of six) months’ rent upfront, and twice as likely to be denied housing due to failed affordability checks (which are often murky and unregulated). 

Families with children

1.4 million families in private rented housing have dependent children, and nearly half of these families receive housing support. The instability of temporary housing situations and worry of facing a Section 21 (no-fault) eviction can be difficult enough for these families, but some are struggling to find anywhere to rent at all.

Over 110,000 families were unable to rent a home they wanted in the last five years because they had children. Short of directly stipulating they won’t rent to families with children, landlords and letting agents use terms like ‘professional couples only’ to heavily imply it.

Families with children are also 66% more likely to be told rent would be too expensive or that they failed a referencing check. Again, these checks are often nothing more than a thinly veiled excuse to avoid renting to certain groups, leaving many in impossible housing situations. 

Renters (Reform) Bill

The UK government has committed to preventing discrimination in private rented housing with the introduction of the Renters (Reform) Bill. If passed, the Bill would directly outlaw blanket bans that prevent families with children and tenants in receipt of benefits from renting private homes. 

While this is absolutely a positive step, the Bill would still make it possible for landlords to continue with less direct forms of discrimination like charging several months’ rent upfront or carrying out unregulated affordability checks.

Shelter is calling for the government to provide more protection for renters by strengthening the Renters (Reform) Bill. You can support Shelter’s campaign by signing their online petition

There is still far too much instability in the UK housing market, particularly for private tenants. All too often the lack of regulations leads to individuals and families suddenly losing their homes through no fault of their own and becoming homeless. 

By supporting Simon on the Streets, you can help us to support people who find themselves in these horrendous circumstances to regain control.

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