You bear the situation no matter where it is or what you have to do. I am trapped here.

For many people, reliance on minimal benefits or very low wages makes it impossible to save up a deposit, and even for those who manage to save, few landlords accept tenants on benefits. In other words, you are trapped where you are - no matter the state of the property.

28 July 2021

Rose Bernstein, Tenant Voice & Campaigns Officer, and Darya*

For many people, reliance on minimal benefits or very low wages makes it impossible to save up a deposit, which means you can’t move and are effectively trapped where you are – no matter the state of the property.
Even for those who manage to save, few landlords accept tenants on benefits. Shelter recently won a battle against landlords holding blanket ‘no-DSS’ policies (i.e. no tenants paying with benefits) but landlords get around this but doing ‘income checks’ or demanding employer references – and if you refuse they won’t rent you the flat.

Our client Darya talks about the impact this has on her.

I rented a room in London in 2013 and the landlord was living in the house. He was drunk most of the time and very aggressive. I was a few months old as a Londoner and had no idea about my entitlement or rights. You come from Iran and you really don’t know what they do to you. I wasn’t welcome in my country, I wasn’t treated well, so why should I expect that in London. At the end of the day you say ok this is not your place, you didn’t invite me, just leave it.

I tried to find a place but DSS makes it extremely hard. It makes me feel sick when I think about it because it’s about 9yrs that this ‘No-DSS’ is eating me as a tenant. I’ve never been free from it. Anywhere you go that the house seems reasonable, no DSS is like something is crushing you. Those who accept DSS it’s a very rough place, with minimum facilities. The flat is a nightmare.

The next house I moved I had 3 other flatmates, who were very noisy, very loud. The house was made of plasterboard – if someone sighed I could hear it. I had no day, no night, nothing. It lasted about 2 years and during this I searched a lot – but either it’s ‘No-DSS’ or you’re bearing the current situation. It’s a feeling like helplessness to be in that situation.
I contacted the council who said there is nothing we can do. If your life is in danger call the police.

Then I was lucky to find another property. Very cramped, very small, at the top of the building with so many stairs. I didn’t have a proper kitchen, I just had one cupboard, a broken door. I had no other option. I moved. I was there for 4 years. In the meantime I was searching for a better, bigger, place, with less stairs.

The landlord wasn’t very good, he was moody. He wasn’t thinking modern, that she’s a human, she deserves respect. He had a key for the main door, so if you didn’t answer he would just come in anyway and he would take it personally, saying, “You don’t want to answer me, you do this, you do that”.
He gave me notice for no reason, so I went to the council housing department.

They found my current accommodation. It’s also a private landlord. They said to me “we are giving you this deposit to use for the next property”. For two weeks the landlord put the pressure on Housing. I was so desperate – I was homeless and it was a good place. Suddenly I realised Housing isn’t paying me a deposit after all – they are paying the landlord an incentive. It’s a big amount – £1300 per tenant. This means wealthy people are benefitting but not me. If they had paid me then next time I would have money in my pocket to pay for another deposit, to get out of here if I needed to, but instead now the landlord has the money. It’s so much money. This money is coming from someone and it should be treated with care.

When you don’t have the money, don’t have a place to go, you bear the situation no matter where it is or what you have to do. I am trapped here.

What needs to change in the future? I would want DSS to be more welcome. And support with a deposit for people like me. When I know what happened to me it gives me energy to fight for those like me who are trapped and voiceless, in the future.

At Z2K, we fundamentally agree with Darya – there is a huge need to make decent housing accessible to everyone. For us that means a few big changes:

  • Housing should be affordable. That means an end to no-DSS discrimination – and to landlords’ ways around it. It also means Local Housing Allowance (that’s the rate of benefits set for rent payment) must be pinned to the median of market rents – to make more housing more affordable.
  • Housing should be accessible. For many, lack of a deposit is a barrier to finding new housing – whether you are homeless or living in poor quality accommodation. We need deposits to be made available to people who don’t have the funds themselves.
  • Housing should be decent quality. It’s well known that housing in the PRS is low-quality and that landlords fail to do repairs. Local authorities have the power to bring in licensing schemes to oversee landlords in their area – but they need the funding to make property checks and enforce penalties.
  • Housing help should be respectful and supportive. Local authorities are strapped for cash – but that’s no excuse for poor policy and lack of respect, which we come across all too often. People need real support when they are facing homelessness, and councils must deliver it.

We’ve joined up with the Renters Reform Coalition to call for these changes and more – if you’re interested, sign up to the campaign here!