Can we persuade more landlords to accept families on benefits?

Red and white T board letting sign sign saying 'To Let'

Can we persuade more landlords to accept families on benefits?

13th April 2021

Sadly it takes more than a nudge to persuade some private landlords to offer homes to families on benefits. To let sign

New research shows that tenants have little chance of finding a rental property on their own. When a council officer makes the approach, chances improve – but only if rent is guaranteed or upfront incentives paid.

These are the findings of an invaluable piece of attitudinal research carried out for @centre-for-homelessness-impact by the Behavioural Insights Team (BIT) – known as the ‘nudge unit’ for their work on influencing behaviour change.

Researchers tested various offers of support for landlords asked to accept tenants on universal credit (UC) using a large sample of National Residential Landlords Association (NRLA) members.

“The scenarios we presented in our trials were designed either to be affordable at the LHA rate or to compensate landlords for renting at a below-market rent,” their report says. “This demonstrates that a tenant’s ability to afford rent is not the only barrier to overcome in encouraging landlords to rent to people who receive UC.”

Some local authorities provide budgeting advice and pre-tenancy training, while all landlords can apply for direct rent payments. But researchers found that highlighting these measures had no impact on the likelihood of landlords accepting tenants on UC.

At Capital Letters, we know from dealing with hundreds of landlords on behalf of councils across London that our experience matches the outcomes of this research: incentive payments are definitely needed, and ideally rent in advance. For many landlords, only cash upfront offsets the perceived risk of arrears. But often that isn’t enough.

The new research highlights a misunderstanding about homelessness at best, or at worst discrimination. We have testimonials from landlords and agents who have had a positive experience and valued our ability to show them the ropes of the benefits system in addition to our unique tenancy sustainment service for both tenants and landlords. But we also encounter plenty of ‘no DSS’ responses.

The BIT and NRLA research does offer some hope. Landlords who have already let to tenants on UC may be more likely to go ahead with a tenancy, suggesting experience could trump preconceptions. And telling landlords that claimants lost their job through Covid also got a better response than when no reason is given. So communication counts.

We need to explain the reasons for homelessness to create a more nuanced view of people claiming benefit. Some myth-busting at the first contact with landlords might help, along with the reassurance that the tenancy will be supported – as we do at Capital Letters – if things go wrong. We know private landlords are persuadable.

But this research shows that without people to act on their behalf, the private rental market is closed for many people at risk of homelessness. That is not right, and thanks to Ligia Teixeira and her team at CHI we know a lot more about how we can persuade more landlords to offer a secure and settled home for families.

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