Tory Majority Day 70: Is ************ Estate Agents Prejudiced Against Disabled Tenants on Housing Benefit?

I’m spitting fire.

Early on in my search I blogged about a particular well known Estate Agents , who I shall call ‘Acme Estate Agents’, who I categorised as a ‘bad agent’ because after I registered with them, they agreed to contact the ‘flexible’ landlord about a flat I was interested in, they didn’t call me back.

I left 3 phone messages for Ellie and Alice the next day. They still didn’t call me back. I had the distinct impression that overnight, something had been said to them about me and they were told not to contact me again.

Unfortunately in my local area in London, Acme Estate Agents are dominant in the rentals market. Having licked my wounds for a week or so, I had to call them again this morning about another couple of flats they are advertising.

In the intervening time I’ve started to wonder if I was wrong about what I was thinking. Turns out not.

Despite speaking to both Alice and Ellie at considerable length over the phone, them registering my details and agreeing to speak to landlords on my behalf, this is what happened today.

Both Ellie and Alice are on holiday at the moment, so I spoke to someone else. Someone who doesn’t know me.

The person listened to me talking about the fact that both Ellie and Alice had spoken to me, that I am in receipt of Housing Benefit due to a disability then they checked my name and telephone number in their database.

MY DETAILS AREN’T THERE

“Really?,” I said, “That’s….curious…..I spoke to both Alice and Ellie at length and I know I registered with you..”

“No, your details aren’t registered,” came the reply.

Then we got into the problems with taking someone on Housing Benefit.

“The problem is that landlords might invalidate their mortgages when they take someone on Housing Benefit.”

“I understand that,” I said, “doesn’t the fact that I have a guarantor make a difference?”

She sounded a bit more confident “Yes. Yes, that’s good, but the problem is that the Council advise Housing Benefit tenants to remain in the property and tell them to make their landlords evict them…”

“Ah yesss,” I said, “but that’s not the case in my situation. The Council doesn’t know I’m looking for somewhere to live, they aren’t involved at all. They’ll know when I tell them about the change of address. I’ve decided I’m going to search for somewhere new to live on my own. So the Council won’t be advising me of anything.”

I can tell this is pushing her and she wants to push back.

“Yes but we have to advise landlords as to what the risks might be. In the case of someone on Housing Benefit, we would have to tell them that the Council can advise that the tenants remain in the properties. So if you didn’t pay your rent, the landlord would have to go to the Council to retrieve the rent….”

“That’s not what would happen in my case,” I said, politely interrupting her, “my guarantor would be the person that you’d go to for the rent, not the Council, as I have a guarantor.”

“Yes but this situation is a risk for landlords. They’d prefer someone who has a salary.”

“What would happen if that person was made redundant and they ended up claiming Housing Benefit?” I said.

“Well, I don’t think that’s what we are discussing,” she answered brusquely.

“I’ve spoken to some agents locally and the answers are different,” I said. “I’d be interested in knowing once and for all if Acme has an approach about disabled people who wish to rent from you and are on Housing Benefit. I’m not claiming because I’m unemployed, I’m claiming because I am disabled.

“Some agents are positive, and say that with a guarantor it’s fine, some are half and half, as you seem to be, and some are a flat ‘no’. I’d like to know what Acme’s approach is so that it doesn’t waste our time, either you in talking to me or me in ringing about properties you are advertising..”

“That would mean we’d need to phone every landlord prior to a viewing….”

“Yes, I suppose that would be what it would mean,” I say.

There’s silence on the phone. “Hello?”

“Sorry there’s someone in the office with me at the moment. I’ll call the landlord in about an hour and call you back.”

I came off the phone from Acme feeling the full weight of their attitude, the rumour that abounds that Housing Benefit tenants are un-evictable and angry, so angry at my local Council who don’t seem to realise that their housing crisis could be made better by doing outreach work with landlords and lettings agents to disabuse them of this attitude.

Do lettings agents equate being on Housing Benefit with being a council tenant? We aren’t. They aren’t the same thing at all.

I have that scrunched up feeling that you get in your stomach when you’ve had a conversation with someone and you’ve been patronised and judged. YUCK! Get out of my head, Acme !!

And you – my local Council – start doing something about this situation you have created and fast….

© Lindy 2015

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