Letting agents are discriminating against people on housing benefit, according to a new report.
Homelessness charity Shelter and the National Housing Federation revealed the alleged bias in a joint undercover investigation.
The two organisations found one in ten regional letting agent branches had banned housing benefit tenants altogether.
The report singled out Haart as the worst offender after a mystery shopper found those with housing benefit had been banned from 25 of its branches.
Bridgfords, Dexters, Fox & Sons and Your Move were also found to have bans in place.
Shelter chief executive Polly Neate said: ‘This ugly undercurrent of discrimination is wreaking havoc on hundreds of thousands of people’s lives. “No DSS” is an outdated and outrageous example of blatant prejudice.
‘Private renting is now so expensive that many people simply can’t get by without some housing benefit, even if they’re working.
‘At Shelter we hear from families – who’ve always paid their rent – being pushed to breaking point after having the door repeatedly slammed shut on them just because they need housing benefit.’
The report, which looked at 149 different branches, estimated 1.64 million adults now relied on housing benefit to pay rent and the majority were women.
It found a lot of single mothers with childcare responsibilities were being affected.
Disabled people were reportedly victims as well because they were three times more likely to need housing benefit.
David Orr, chief executive of the National Housing Federation – which represents social landlords of around six million people, criticised letting agents after the report was released.
He added: ‘Letting agents should be ashamed that discrimination is still happening today in the form of an outright ban on people simply because they depend on housing benefit.
The report suggested the letting agents could be breaking the law by rejecting housing benefit tenants.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission said it would look at the evidence to see if any action should be taken.
A spokesman for the Minister of Housing said tenants could complain to redress schemes if they felt they were being discriminated against.
But David Cox, chief executive of letting agents’ body Arla Propertymark, blamed the government for paying housing benefit in arrears instead of being paid in advance like other rent, which was more attractive to landlords and agents.
A Fox & Sons spokeswoman said: ‘We can confirm that we certainly do not have a policy to discriminate against tenants in receipt of housing benefits, and our branches are guided to always take instructions from our landlords.’
A spokesman for Haart added: ‘It is not our policy to refuse housing benefit tenants – anyone who passes referencing checks is able to rent properties listed with our branches. We do regularly arrange tenancies for those claiming housing benefits and currently have 112 tenancies where this is the case.
‘This research has brought to light that some of our branches are misinformed and we are working to ensure that this policy is being followed across our network. We are sorry for any occasion where this has not been the case.’
Your Move letting agent commented: ‘As a letting agent we are instructed by the landlord and it is ultimately the landlord’s decision whether to let to those receiving benefits.
‘However, as a letting agent we regularly handle applications from those in receipt of DSS benefits and our experience is that many such applicants have successfully secured a rental property through us.
‘We are members of ARLA and NFoPP and seek at all times to deliver our services in accordance with best industry practice and to provide good customer outcomes’
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