York County Court has found that a letting agent was in breach of the Equality Act 2010 for operating a blanket policy of refusing to rent to individuals on benefits. Following the hearing earlier this month, District Judge Mark held that the letting agent’s policy, which it discontinued in 2019, had been “unlawfully indirectly discriminatory on the grounds of sex and disability contrary to Sections 19 and 29 of the Equality Act 2010”.
In 2018 the letting agent received an application, for a privately rented property, from a 44-year-old disabled single mother of two. She was able to pay 6 months’ rent in advance and held good references from her previous landlords, but her application was rejected on the basis of her being in receipt of housing benefit. As a result, she and her children were made homeless, and she subsequently brought a claim for discrimination against the letting agent. Where similar cases brought over the last few years have settled out of court, this is the first time that a court has considered such a policy, known as “No DSS” policies, in the context of discrimination.
Under the Equality Act 2010 it is unlawful to directly or indirectly discriminate against anyone because of a ‘protected characteristic’, including when renting out a home. Indirect discrimination happens where a decision, procedure or policy, although appearing to treat everyone equally, in practice leads to people from a particular protected group being treated less favourably than others. Given that more people with protected characteristics receive benefits than the general population, they are more likely to be affected by a refusal to rent properties to people who receive benefits.
Research in 2018 found that at least 10% of online advertisements for homes to rent stated that they would not rent to people in receipt of housing benefit. Although many letting agents, including the one involved in this case, are no longer operating No DSS policies, some no doubt continue to do so. However, the recent ruling means that doing so is unlawful.
In practical terms this means that letting agents and landlords must carefully consider an applicant’s circumstances, and can only refuse to rent a property to someone in receipt of benefits if doing so would not be discriminatory.
If you are a landlord or agent and are unsure about the law relating to this matter, or if you are an individual who has experienced discrimination, please contact Rachel Waller a Senior Associate with the Litigation and Dispute Resolution department.
If you need advice or assistance on any of the issues mentioned in this article please contact Rachel or another member of our expert Dispute Resolution team on 020 7631 4141 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
The above is accurate as at 14 July 2020. The information above may be subject to change during these ever-changing times.
The content of this note should not be considered legal advice and each matter should be considered on a case by case basis.