Q. I HAVE recently split with my husband and am now a single mother so I will be claiming housing benefit, but am finding it very difficult and feeling discriminated against.
Can you offer any advice?
Mrs M, Stroud
A. I am sorry to hear that you are feeling discriminated against.
Unfortunately with an increasing shortage of housing both council and private, and increase in demand, landlords can afford to be picky about their tenants.
Many landlords do not accept tenants claiming the Local Housing Allowance, and some agencies do not accept these tenants either.
There are a number of reasons for this which mostly doesn’t come down to prejudice.
Firstly, if the rent is considerably higher than the Local Housing Allowance rate, then it would be considered out of the range of affordability, what’s more, some buy to let mortgages simply do not allow it and many landlords insurances also either don’t allow it or charge a higher rate if the tenants are in receipt of benefits.
Whether rightly or wrongly, there is a perception by landlords, mortgage companies and insurance companies alike that ‘housing benefit tenants’ are higher risk.
This is not helped by the on going cuts and the fact that the council pays housing benefit at the end of the period for which it is due and the vast majority of landlords expect the rent paid ‘in advance’ at the beginning of the month which it is due, as well as the complexity and changing nature of the system.
It is not difficult as a claimant to get into a pickle with it, the entitlement rates can change and payments can be suspended if a mistake is made, either on the part of the claimant, or indeed the local council.
That is not to say that tenants in receipt of housing benefit can’t be good tenants.
My advice to you is to get your first month’s rent, admin fee and deposit saved up and ready, line up a guarantor, do what you can to improve your credit rating, and offer a good history of previous landlord references if at all possible.
It is very worthwhile looking in newspapers and shop windows for a ‘Private Landlord’ (landlords who advertise their properties themselves), they can sometimes be more lenient and you would then have the opportunity to make a good impression directly.
Also, walk around the estate agents and make a good impression face to face, this can be a big help to reassure agents that you will make a good tenant.
At the end of the day, the aim of the game is to reassure the landlord that you will pay the rent and take good care of the property.
So any way in which you can demonstrate that you are financially responsible and a neat and tidy person will always help.
Please continue to send in your letting related questions to firstname.lastname@example.org