Official: It’s “Perfectly Legitimate” to Discriminate Against Benefits Claimants

An individual private business will make commercial decisions. If they actually decide they don’t want to have somebody on housing benefit in the future, that’s a perfectly legitimate thing for them to do.

Kris Hopkins MP (Con)

Kris Hopkins, Minister for Housing, gave an interview to the BBC’s Panorama programme last night in which he defended the blanket bans on, and evictions of, tenants claiming Housing Benefit (HB) by private landlords. Under the Coalition’s cuts to the benefit, payments are capped and now go into tenants’ bank accounts rather than directly to the landlords.  Unsurprisingly, this has led to some tenants falling behind on their rent, which has led to the exclusion of all HB claimants from much of the private rented sector.

Who’d claim Housing Benefit these days? Between crude caps that exclude you from half of the country; heartless property barons arbitrarily making you homeless; and ministers endorsing your treatment as a second class citizen, you’d only ask for state help if you absolutely had to. (Err, wait a second…)

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It’s inevitable that landlords will only rent to people who can afford the property. That is “legitimate”, and it is up to government to expand the social housing sector to ensure that the poor are adequately housed. However, the exclusion of anybody who receives Housing Benefit from a property is not a valid business practice. Although those on HB are, by definition, poor, the majority are perfectly capable of setting aside the money for rent. Even when seriously hard-up, most tenants will prioritise rent above all other expenses up to food. That’s because keeping a roof over one’s head is much more important than keeping bailiffs from taking the sofa.

I must say, Coalition policy about HB reveals a lot about their attitude. The cuts to the benefit were not about hitting the “scroungers” to support “hardworking families”, whatever the Tory rhetoric was. The majority of HB claimants are in work. No, this is an old-fashioned campaign to attack the poor, regardless of their employment status.

Whilst it is not impossible for a family on HB to find a home to rent, it is becoming more difficult. Look online at a rentals website, or in the property section of a local paper (if you’ve still got one) and many adverts will say “Sorry no DHSS”. This is infuriating on two counts. Not only is there the social exclusion of benefits claimants, often the working poor, but there is the term. If the landlords were that “sorry” they wouldn’t impose that particular condition. Much the same principle applied when the “no Blacks, no Irish” caveats were ubiquitous before the 1960s. (Also, the DHSS, or Department for Health and Social Security, which used to pay out HB, hasn’t existed since 1988. I know it’s a petty complaint, but I think people should get their facts straight.)

Anyway, a number of those receiving HB are pensioners or disabled. Is the Minister for Housing seriously supporting discrimination against those who, for perfectly “legitimate” reasons, do not earn their own income?

I don’t like to think the worst of people, but there’s little to suggest Hopkins is concerned by the injustices he has helped to create. If he was, these “no DHSS” polices would be banned.

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