It’s official! I no longer think that lettings agents are pond scum who float about in a conscienceless universe of their own making…
As I am writing this post I am consulting my spreadsheet. Well it’s less of a spreadsheet and more of a Word document with a table inserted into it actually, but it does the job.
In it are the notes I’ve taken from every conversation with a lettings agents about my housing benefit status. I spoke to about 19 lettings agents from my local area. That’s all of them. The info in the spreadsheet is my golden ticket.
This is what I asked the lettings agents over the phone:
“I rent at the moment and need to move because my landlord requires my flat back to do repairs. However my situation is complicated by the fact that I’m on Housing Benefit. I’m receiving Housing Benefit not because I’m unemployed, but because I have a long term health condition. I understand this can be difficult for some agents and some landlords, what is your view? I have a guarantor, by the way.”
Having been down this road 2 years ago and getting doors slammed in my face, I was reluctant to even try again.
However it was not entirely the same this time I phoned and there’s even good news too!
When they were good, they were very, very good…..
The biggest difference was that when people were positive, they were really, really positive. Conversely when people were negative, boy were they negative! It was very obvious though that people seemed more prepared than before to even have a conversation about my situation. That was a big change.
Saying that, when people strayed into asking me about what my health condition is, that’s when I heard some of the most humdinging clangers that made my jaw drop!! Equalities Act – someone get out there and perform some emergency training now!!
Let’s start with the biggie: what did the agents say about landlords taking people on Housing Benefit?
Well, almost all of them said it was an individual choice from landlord to landlord. Quite a few of them said things like: ‘it’s not us, we’d never discriminate, it’s the landlords that will want / need to know.’ When I pressed them about why, there were some revealing answers:
Why not take Housing Benefit tenants?
Some landlord insurers won’t accept tenants unless they are in a permanent full time job, for instance. Some lettings agents have financial checks that would exclude people who are in part-time work even.
1 agent used the example of a person who works for 6 months a year earning a fortune and then kicks back and doesn’t work for the remaining 6 months. They’d fail a financial check instantly. Surprised? I was too.
Others have had bad experiences with Housing Benefit tenants who have been advised by my local council to remain in properties after landlords want the properties returned.
This advice has flown around letting agentland like wildfire, I heard that story from 3 separate agencies. So it must be true…..
In the middle ground were agents who did not flinch at all when I gave them the speil.
One agent was actively positive, telling me that they rent to Housing Benefit tenants already, that I shouldn’t worry and that they even had something on their books at the moment that they thought might be suitable. They added that if I had some money up front, that’d be great and having a guarantor was marvey.
I got so encouraged by this that I sat back over the weekend feeling that my problems were about to be solved.
When I didn’t hear from them about this property I decided to call them today. Guess what – they hadn’t even registered my details.
Hmmm! Thought I. When you have MECFS every bit of energy spent on the phone eats away at your energy-budget. However they were prepared to call a landlord and ask them if they’d accept me before a viewing. I thought this was good of them and showed they were walking the walk, as well as talking the talk.
The ‘guarantor’ question
When I said ‘ if they were positive, they were really, really positive’ I meant it. 2 agents told me flatly that even having a guarantor wouldn’t help. 1 agent told me they’d advise any landlord against taking Housing Benefit tenants because of that story about the Council that has spread like wildfire….
Of the ones who were positive, all of them said a guarantor was essential.
Here’s what your guarantor needs:
1. to be in full time work and resident in the UK
2. not in probationary period
3. earning 30 times the rental salary.
4. be a homeowner, some said.
The guarantor question was firmly answered as an affirmative, despite some saying that it wouldn’t make any difference. 2 agents said they wouldn’t even mention Housing Benefit to a landlord if I had a guarantor because ‘it’s like being a student and that’s how we do it for them.’
1 agent told me ‘there’s ways around it – you say that your guarantor is helping you pay your rent, for instance. You don’t even have to GO there with the housing benefit words.”
Of those who listened and talked me through what I could do, their advice about having a guarantor was clear. You need one.
Yes. You are going to need these and lettings agents are clearly living high on the hog from tenants who are paying HUGE amount of advance fees.
My sister, HS is lending me this money. If you are in this situation, as I was until Tuesday last week, with no credit, no overdraft and no means to borrow, you are really stuck.
Shocking personal questions about my disability
Blimey there are some nosy people out there who need to read the UK Equalities Act, and fast.
1 agent said: ‘ what have you got, if you don’t mind me asking? The landlords will need to know.’
‘I have a long term health condition that prevents me from working,’ was my extremely noncommittal reply.
After a while I got into the habit of preempting their questions.
I said: ‘No, I don’t need any adaptations. No, it’s not catching or terminal and yes, I can live on any floor in a building.’I found that herded them off at the pass.
Not entirely, though. 1 agent thought they were being helpful by asking the details of my illness. When I said ‘ I have an illness that makes me fatigued very quickly,’ she took it upon herself to advise me about which properties would and wouldn’t be suitable. Indirect discrimination? Direct discrimination? I’m not sure.
Once I loosened up and treated the agents like human beings and was honest with them, they were too. I didn’t say: “MECFS” at any stage. I didn’t want to and I didn’t think they needed to know.
Only 2 agents behaved in a way that made me think that if I were well and salaried again, I’d never go back to them with my money to spend because they were insulting or simply slammed the door firmly in my face.
1 said: “I’ve got to stop you there, it’s a no,” and that was that!
I’ll show you my bank statements!
They rightly asked how I could prove I pay my rent to my landlord. Hamster-wheeling with the thought that they might contact him and ask him about my status despite the fact that he doesn’t know I’m on benefits, I suggested that I print out and show them a year’s bank statements that shows me paying the rent.
This idea went down very well indeed!
I am seeing 2 flats tomorrow afternoon. They are priced at £900.00 pcm which is my Housing Benefit limit. The agent said that it was worth seeing them anyway. She said that if I liked them, she’d then to the ‘persuading job’ with the owners.
I’m also waiting to hear back from the agent who is calling a landlord who speaks very little English, to ask his view about me. He said if it were up to him, he’d consider my situation with a guarantor and finance to be very good indeed but he’s got to struggle to explain to the landlord what this situation means.
Give that agent a medal!
That flat is £950.00 PCM which means I’ll have to find the extra £50.00 from my ESA. So be it, I thought. There are going to be sacrifices and if my family are making some to help me, I feel I should also make some to show I’m meeting them half way.
So there you go. Progress, yes. Julie, my disability rights advisor with a speciality in housing is coming around tomorrow morning to meet with me and no doubt she’ll have more to add and all along the way, I’ll keep you posted.
© Lindy 2015