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Should I take tenants on benefits?

Thursday, 29th September 2016

This thought provoking article was originally posted by our business partners at Legal 4 Landlords.

We’d be guilty of gross over-simplification if we said ‘no’. The truth is that tenants in receipt of benefits are as diverse as the rest of the population, and you could find that the most reliable and careful tenant you ever have is someone whose rent is paid from their housing allowance. In addition, benefits can be more dependable than low-paid employment that’s short term or at risk. At least the local authority should have some cash to hand over.

In all things property related, it’s best to know the facts, weigh up the pros and cons and keep your wits about you. Here are some things you should be aware of if you’re thinking about letting to claimants.

The payment method has changed

Rent payments used to be made directly to landlords from the local authority. That’s no longer the case. Claimants are expected to take more responsibility for their finances, and they will be the ones paying over the cash.

The system is complex, cumbersome and slow

Red tape can be a nightmare. Forms and more forms, stopped payments, changed amounts and delays – you get the picture. Councils even have the right to claim money back from unwitting landlords if the benefit paid was based on a false claim. You could find yourself in need of legal help.

Who is paying the deposit?

Although some local authorities will help with a deposit, not all do. If your tenant hasn’t got the money to pay out, the security you need against damage to your property will be missing.

Do your mortgage conditions allow claimants as tenants?

Some buy-to-let mortgages don’t. Others may even demand a higher rate of interest if you chose a tenant in receipt of benefits. Read the small print before you go ahead.

Check your insurance

Some policies may not protect your rent if you take on DSS tenants. It’s worth checking what you’re covered for and whether there are any exclusions. If you’d like our advice, talk to our insurance team.

The verdict?

Unfortunately, there’s no global right or wrong, but there is a verdict that’s right or wrong for your circumstances. Consider things like supply and demand: which is better for you, a property occupied by benefit claimants or a property standing empty. Your property’s location and condition may be a big factor. If it’s in a deprived area, with fixtures and décor that are run down, you may not have the option of being able to pick and choose. How important is it to you that the tenancy is trouble free? Can you handle any extra workload, anxiety and possible payment delays?
Our advice is to use your common sense, and to make sure you check everything you can thoroughly. Get good references, check your mortgage and insurance conditions and make sure you understand exactly how housing benefit works.
Like we said at the start, a benefit claimant can be a brilliant tenant. It all depends …