"No DSS” policies now unlawful

Landlords and lettings agents using "No DSS" policies risk prosecution. Wales and Scotland announce their property tax holidays. "Mary Barbour Bill" stopped by SNP and Scottish Conservatives. Property asking prices up with mini-boom;
County court

A case heard on 1st July 2020, at York County Court, has ruled that letting agents and landlords are breaking the law if they include any “No DSS” policies in the advertising or letting of property.

The case in question was brought against a letting agent, before District Judge Victoria Elizabeth Mark, by homelessness and housing charity Shelter, on behalf of a single mother-of-two.

In hearing the evidence surrounding the case, it became clear that whilst the woman was told her application had been rejected because she was in receipt of benefits; she had also been the subject of indirect discrimination due to her gender and disability.

Having identified a property, after a considerable search, the woman’s letting application was rejected, which rendered her and her family homeless. They had no other option but to move into a hostel.

Discrimination, based on being a tenant in receipt of benefits, came into the public eye last year.

One of the largest UK property portals, Rightmove, started to remove such messaging from their site from May 2019 and lettings agents and other platforms have followed suit.

Test case in discrimination

However, the critical aspect to this case is that it has put to the test whether discrimination of this kind is found to be unlawful and the perpetrator prosecuted, because of a guilty verdict.

Speaking of her experiences, the victim in the case said:

“I was shocked and found it very unfair that they wouldn’t even give me a chance.

“I had excellent references from both my landlords of the last nine years as I’ve always paid my rent on time and I had a professional guarantor.

“I could pay up to six months’ rent in advance if they wanted it because my parents lent me the amount, which I then paid back to them monthly.

“But when the letting agent wouldn’t take me because of a company policy, I felt very offended that after all those years, when I have prided myself on paying my rent, paying my bills, being a good tenant, it just meant nothing.

“When I realised we were going to be homeless because I couldn’t find anywhere, I felt sick to my stomach.”

Chris Norris, Policy Director for the National Residential Landlords Association commented on the matter:

“No landlord should discriminate against tenants because they are in receipt of benefits. Every tenant’s circumstance is different and so they should be treated on a case by case basis based on their ability to sustain a tenancy,” says Chris Norris, Policy Director for the National Residential Landlords Association.

“More broadly, the Government can also support this work by ensuring benefits cover rents entirely. It should also convert the loans to cover the five week wait for the first payment of Universal Credit into grants.”

Mortgage criteria

Some mortgage lenders stipulate that tenants in receipt of benefits fall outside their lending criteria, so some landlords are beholden by their mortgage contract not to accept applicants in this situation.

Where that is the case, it is vital that a full explanation is given when advertising the property.

Rightmove are undertaking further discussions with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government on this matter.

However, it seems logical that a change would have to be made by mortgage lenders first, in order to enable landlords to be completely free to allow tenants of all kinds to reside in their properties.

For sale signWales and Scotland on stamp duty

Wales and Scotland have announced their plans for tax cuts on property transactions, similar to those made by Rishi Sunak, but with important differences for landlords and second homes.

Wales’ Land Transaction Tax

Welsh finance minister, Rebecca Evans, has announced a broadening of properties values exempt from Land Transaction Tax (the Welsh equivalent to Stamp Duty), up to £250,000.

However, landlords investing in buy to let properties and those buying holiday homes will not be privy to the cut.

The response from estate agents has been tepid, as it is not yet possible to view an occupied property, making the tax break initially somewhat redundant.

Wales hopes to ease this lockdown measure on 27th July, so it is not a long wait.

Speaking on the subject, Ms Evans said:

"Unlike in England, this new threshold will not apply to the purchase of additional properties such as buy-to-lets or second homes.

"It will support people looking to purchase their first home or those seeking to move up the property ladder. So it will offer more targeted help to those who may be affected by the economic challenges resulting from the pandemic."

She added that the decision to make the cut was "very much a response" to Rishi Sunak’s announcement for England and Northern Ireland property transactions. The Welsh initiative also holds the same deadline date of 31st March 2021.

80% of house sales are expected to be exempt from paying any land transaction tax, as the result of average house prices in Wales.

Average house prices in Wales by county

County

Average price

% of Wales avg. price (£186k)

Clwyd

£182k

98%

Dyfed

£183k

98%

Gwent

£184k

99%

Gwynedd

£191k

103%

Mid Glamorgan

£144k

77%

Powys

£199k

107%

South Glamorgan

£242k

130%

West Glamorgan

£160k

86%

Source: Plumplot.co.uk

The Welsh government also intends to use £30m of additional funding, from the UK government, to build new social housing.

Scotland’s Land and Buildings Transaction Tax

The Scottish government also announced a tax holiday for property transactions. In Scotland, landlords will benefit but, similar to the UK, will pay an additional surcharge.

The Land and Buildings Transaction Tax (LBTT) holiday will be effective 15th July 2020 – 31st March 2021.

For those in Scotland buying a home, which is the only property they will own, there will be no LBTT payable on property values of up to £250,000. Prior to the change, LBTT was charged at 2% for property values of £145,000 - £250,000.

LBTT holiday for landlords

Landlords will benefit from the reduction in the standard LBTT payment, but will continue to pay the “additional dwelling supplement” (ADS) of 4% (increased from 3% on 25th January 2019) on properties over £40,000.

Property value

Old LBTT (incl. ADS)

New LBTT (incl. ADS)

Up to £40,000

0%

0%

£40,001 - £145,000

4%

4%

£145,001 - £250,000

6%

4%

£250,001 - £325,000

9%

9%

£325,001 - £750,000

10%

10%

Over £750,001

16%

16%

Landlords buying property in Scotland can calculate their LBTT costs, using the calculator on the Revenue Scotland website.

Average house prices in Scotland by local authority (Q4 2019)

The average residential house price in Scotland is £179,541, as at Q4 2019.

Local authority

Avg. house price

Local authority

Avg. house price

Aberdeen City

£185,785

Inverclyde

£132,514

Aberdeenshire

£198,351

Midlothian

£231,818

Angus

£163,027

Moray

£168,713

Argyll and Bute

£164,093

Na h-Eileanan Siar

£123,438

City of Edinburgh

£262,228

North Ayrshire

£124,147

Clackmannanshire

£142,958

North Lanarkshire

£136,391

Dumfries and Galloway

£139,091

Orkney Islands

£158,667

Dundee City

£146,057

Perth and Kinross

£192,486

East Ayrshire

£118,351

Renfrewshire

£147,831

East Dunbartonshire

£277,839

Scottish Borders

£187,504

East Lothian

£242,280

Shetland Islands

£135,954

East Renfrewshire

£265,340

South Ayrshire

£154,592

Falkirk

£145,910

South Lanarkshire

£157,709

Fife

£162,897

Stirling

£209,300

Glasgow City

£161,810

West Dunbartonshire

£121,985

Highland

£184,446

West Lothian

£185,542

Scottish flagFair Rent (Scotland) Bill comes to a halt

Scotland’s Local Government and Communities Committee (LGCC) has stopped the Fair Rent (Scotland) Bill, also referred to as the “Mary Barbour Bill”, from progressing to Stage 1 consideration.

The decision was taken because it was felt that there was not enough time to give the Bill necessary scrutiny before the next election in Scotland, on 6th May 2021.

Pauline McNeill, a member of the Scottish Labour Party, first launched the Bill back in February.

The overarching aims for the Bill were to:

  1. Cap rent increases at no more than the Consumer Price Index, plus 1%
  2. Give tenants on a Private Residential Tenancy agreement the right to apply for a fair rent (no more than once in a rolling 12 month period)
  3. Get landlords to record and update rent charges, at registration and renewal, on a central database
  4. Ensure a statement on the impact of the Bill was released, by ministers, within 3 years of implementation

At the time of launch, it was highlighted that rent caps had previously been found to worsen the situation for renters, as landlords exited the market and rental property supply reduced.

James Dornan, Covener (chairperson) of the LGCC, said:

“We recognise the effort from Scottish Labour MSP Pauline McNeill in bringing forward this Bill.

“However, the committee has finite time available for scrutiny, particularly given our pressing need to investigate the devastating impact of COVID-19 on local government and our wider communities.

“Given the limited time at our disposal, we felt we could not give this Bill the detailed scrutiny it deserved and so as a committee we decided not to proceed on this occasion.”

Labour launches petition to save the Bill

The Scottish Labour Party expressed strong disappointment at the news the Bill has been dropped. Pauline McNeill who was responsible for its launch said:

“I am extremely disappointed that the Local Government Committee has decided not to proceed with the Fair Rents (Scotland) Bill at this stage.

“I appreciate that time is tight between now and the end of this parliamentary session, but the Bill proposed important measures to protect renters and improve housing affordability.”

Specialist legal practice in housing, Govan Law Centre have been working with Ms McNeill. Solicitor, Mike Dailly, from the firm shared his reaction:

“We are astonished that the Scottish Parliament‘s Local Government Committee has refused to consider the Fair Rents (Scotland) Bill. They have binned the Bill without any discussion. A year of hard work ignored. Lockdown has meant a massive increase in rent arrears, what could be more important than discussing fair rents in Scotland?”

Scottish Labour has launched a petition to save the Bill.

Houses on stacks of coinsProperty asking prices up 2.4%

Rightmove and Zoopla property platforms are both recording increases in property asking prices.

Back in June, Zoopla published statistics that showed year on year growth for average asking prices in May 2020 was 2.4%.
This month its rival, Rightmove, has announced figures of its own, which show that March to July asking prices had also increased by 2.4% - a record high for the company – with their annual figures showing an even greater increase, at 3.7%.

Covid-19 and the Stamp Duty holiday

Covid-19 and the Stamp Duty Holiday have presented a perfect storm of push and pull for the property market, and each factor has influenced multiple social groups.

With the pandemic lockdown, the majority of people without some sort of domestic outdoor space suffered. This has pushed these groups to seek properties with gardens, where financially possible.

The pull effect has come from the recently announced tax breaks – as was its intention.

Whilst the financial uncertainty for those on furlough and those made redundant, as a result of Covid-19 have had a dampening effect, a heavy discount on property transactions has been a strong counter-acting lever.

Homebuyers across the UK have embraced the news of stamp duty holidays, with all countries under a deadline of 31st March 2021.

The Welsh and Scottish governments launched their own equivalents of England and Northern Ireland’s temporary reduction in the tax.

Whilst landlords are excluded from any benefit of the Welsh Land Transaction Tax holiday, those in other regions are not.

Landlords investing in England and Northern Ireland and in Scotland, are privy to a partial discount on property purchases, as a result of the schemes offered by central government and the devolved Scottish parliament.

Act quickly to reap the rewards

March 2021 may seem an age away, but there are factors at play that bring the deadline closer than may be anticipated:

  • Chains can slow progress. Whilst you are buying an investment, your seller may be part of a chain
  • Average purchases take 4 months to complete which means some take considerably longer
  • Covid-19 has slowed valuations there is a back-log being worked through
  • Christmas slows down solicitors. The festive period commonly writes-off progress on the legal side

Rightmove director and housing market analyst, Miles Shipside, gave his interpretation of events:

“The unexpected mini-boom continues to gather momentum as more nations reopen. Overall buyer enquiries are up by an incredible 75% year-on-year in Britain and we expect activity will increase even further as Scotland has not yet been open for a full month, and Wales still has some housing market restrictions in place.

"The busy until interrupted spring market has now picked up where it left off and has been accelerated by both time-limited stamp duty holidays and by homeowners reappraising their homes and lifestyles because of the lockdown. The strength of buyer demand has contributed to record prices, with the 3.7% annual rate of increase being the highest for over three and a half years. These figures are the earliest indicator of house price trends. They show on average prices gently rising not falling, and this will be reflected in the coming months in other house price reports.”

Many homebuyers are unleashing a post-lockdown pent-up desire to move, which has fuelled activity in the domestic market. Landlords are aware of the opportunity that an uncertain market and tax discount can bring, which is likely to have added to property market activity.

With experience in property negotiation behind them, and a non-emotional purchasing decision to be made, landlords can explore various investment opportunities, to find a deal the benefits them the most.

This information should not be interpreted as financial advice. Mortgage and loan rates are subject to change.