So we’ve crunched the numbers from our mammoth mystery shopping exercise to see what the market looks like for people looking for private rented properties with housing benefit.
It’s a shocking picture.
We did a snapshot survey of 1585 properties in total, advertised on Gumtree and Rightmove in Hackney on one day, of which 142 were within housing benefit limits for self-contained accommodation, and 14 of those properties had landlords willing to rent to housing benefit tenants.
That’s 9% of properties within the 30th percentile rate – this rate is set so that about 30% of properties should be available to someone claiming housing benefit. But the rate was frozen in April 2012, and real private rents have continued to rise in Hackney.
And out of all the properties we looked at, under 1% were both within the limits and with a landlord willing to rent to a benefit claimant.
When we looked at just the family-sized properties (properties with two bedrooms or more), the picture was even worse. Out of 1090 family-sized properties (from two to five bedrooms), there were just 36 properties (3%) within the limits and five of those (0.5%) with landlords willing to rent to someone on housing benefit. We had all sorts of responses, from ‘No DSS’ outright on the advert, to people saying they didn’t work with the council, it was their personal preference, they didn’t like housing benefit tenants. Many landlords said they would rent to working people only, seemingly unaware that many people claiming housing benefit are actually in work. When we did find landlords willing to rent to housing benefit tenants, there were some uncomfortable questions being asked at the outset, in one case about nationality and family type.
We also looked at applying shared accommodation rates to the properties we surveyed, which are lower than the rates for self-contained accommodation. There was only one within the limits (£92.35 per week for most of Hackney). Shared accommodation housing benefit rates are paid to single people under 35 in the private rented sector.
Other interesting trends were some surprising business models springing up to make money out of the scarcity and difficulty facing prospective housing benefit tenants. One advert linked to a site which asked for a registration fee in order to access properties available to housing benefit tenants, with adverts for high-interest credit to raise the required deposit and rent in advance that everyone must pay in order to secure private rented accommodation. Another company linked through from Gumtree was advertising the provision of a deposit for a hefty non-returnable fee.
So for anyone in receipt of housing benefit and looking for somewhere to live in Hackney right now, prospects are looking pretty daunting at the moment.