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“Professionals only please”: Discrimination against housing benefit recipients on online rental platforms

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JournalHousing Studies
DateAccepted/In press - 29 Nov 2021
DateE-pub ahead of print - 9 Dec 2021
DatePublished (current) - 1 Feb 2022
Volume39
Number of pages23
Early online date9/12/21
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

Based on an analysis of 31,909 listings on SpareRoom.co.uk – the self-proclaimed “#1 Flatshare site in the UK” – this paper makes two arguments. First, that housing benefit recipients are systemically excluded from listings on online flat-sharing websites through the construction of the “professional” prospective tenant. The UK’s much derided “No DSS” has evolved into a “professionals only” proxy. This is not confined solely to landlords and agents posting on the platform – it is also reflected by sitting tenants advertising spare rooms. Second, that the design of the SpareRoom.co.uk platform exacerbates this exclusion by facilitating the use of this “professional” construction. Through the design of inputs and built-in classifications within the platform, users posting listings are prompted to select from a finite list of housemate preferences, which in turn increases the number of listings adopting exclusionary practices. These findings have implications for research on low-income renters, “generation rent” and the role of online renting platforms.

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© 2021, The Author(s).

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