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Housing campaigners hail Oxford City Council for passing anti-DSS discrimination motion

HOUSING campaigners have hailed Oxford City Council agreeing to stamp out “DSS discrimination” against tenants in receipt of housing benefit and universal credit — and called on town halls across the country to do the same.

Unscrupulous landlords mark their adverts “no DSS” — after the long-defunct Department of Social Security — in a bid to stop those on benefits from applying.

The cross-party motion on Monday was proposed by Labour Councillor Imogen Thomas and seconded by the leader of the Green group, councillor Chris Jarvis.

In passing the motion, the council called on the city’s cabinet to explicitly prohibit discrimination against welfare recipients as part of its landlord licensing scheme, ensure that the city’s welfare reform team proactively looks out for and acts upon reported cases of discrimination and establishes a formal tenants’ forum to be consulted on housing decisions.

The motion also calls on the city’s housing and homelessness panel to monitor action taken to address discrimination against welfare recipients.

Mr Jarvis welcomed the motion and praised councillors for putting aside political differences to take a stance in opposition to housing discrimination.

He said: “For too long, some landlords and letting agents have been acting with impunity, despite DSS discrimination having been ruled unlawful in 2020.

“We all know that housing in Oxford is only becoming less and less affordable. Additional barriers to people accessing secure housing in the city must be torn down, starting with discrimination against welfare recipients.

“Housing is a human right, plain and simple. This decision starts the council further down the road of making that a reality.”

The motion follows a rally against DSS discrimination held by community union Acorn over the weekend.

Acorn members have held pickets, confronted agents, gathered evidence of discriminatory practices, defended fellow members facing DSS discrimination and held a community rally in recent months to demand an end to the practice.

The group called on other councils across Britain to follow suit and take action against DSS discrimination.

Acorn Oxford branch chairwoman Safieh Kabir said: “We’re proud that our members’ collective campaigning efforts have pushed the issue of covert DSS discrimination out from the shadows.

“Oxford has a deserved reputation as a divided city, and property owners discriminating against renters on benefits is yet another factor squeezing working-class people out.

“Where are ordinary people supposed to live?

“Oxford city councillors passing a cross-party motion to stamp out this discrimination in our city demonstrates the power of our collective, direct action.

“When the community comes together, we are heard, and we won’t stop fighting until we have safe, dignified housing for all.”

Labour Councillor Imogen Thomas said: “I am delighted that the motion was unanimously passed. It is an important step towards eradicating discrimination in the private rented sector. Nearly half of Oxford households are privately rented, and it is vital that the voices of tenants are heard in Town Hall.

“The campaigns of grassroots community groups such as ACORN played an important role in amplifying those voices and exposing covert discriminatory practices.

“The pandemic has dramatically affected livelihoods and more people are claiming benefits. Added to this, we will see more people seeking new housing now that the eviction ban has been lifted. This combination has served to worsen precarity in the private rented sector, and has left many at risk of homelessness. Oxford City Council’s cross-party support for the motion sends a clear message: we are committed to championing tenants and fighting discrimination against those hardest-hit by the pandemic.”

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