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Benefit claimants lettings portal rapped by advertising watchdog

Benefit claimants lettings portal rapped by advertising watchdog

Claims on a website advertising “unlimited access” for £4.99 to properties that accept tenants on housing benefits have been banned by the advertising watchdog. A complaint was also upheld that property listings on the website may not have been genuine.

Dsshousinguk, a website owned by Horizon Housing, said that home hunters looking on the site could register and receive direct contact numbers for landlords and agents accepting housing benefit tenants.

It said that after paying £4.99 for “limited access, you can keep using the site until you have found your property”.

But a complainant told the Advertising Standards Authority that after she registered and paid the fee, she found she had access to landlords in only one area, and would need to pay additional fees to access contacts in other areas.

She also challenged whether the listings were all genuine, because she said that when she contacted some of the landlords, all were unaware of the website.

Horizon Housing told the Advertising Standards Authority that they thought it was clear that the registration fee was payable for each geographical area. The firm also said that all the properties listed on the website were genuine at the time they were posted, although some might have been let and were no longer available.

The firm said that 800 letting agents had access to the website and could update their own properties, although some used email to ask Horizon Housing to update the agent’s properties for them. The website was updated daily, attracting 50,000 customers annually.

Both complaints were upheld. The watchdog said that properties listed in the scroll bar of the home page were not actual properties for rent but simply examples.  

The ASA  said in its ruling: “We also noted that Horizon Housing had not provided any evidence to show that the property listings on the rest of the website were genuine.

“We invited HH to provide us with a selection of the letting agents who had listed properties on their website with a view to us contacting them, but HH did not provide that information. We considered that because we had not seen evidence to show that the properties listed on the website were genuine, it was misleading.”

Horizon Housing has been told to amend their website to make clear that a £4.99 registration fee is payable for each of the areas listed, and to ensure that they only list properties on their website which are genuinely available for rent.