For advice on residential land and tenant disputes, contact Mike Hansom on 01225 462871, email him or complete the contact form at the foot of this page.
In a judgment hailed by Shelter UK as “momentous”, a judge at York County Court has ruled that a letting agency’s “No DSS” policy discriminated against a disabled, single mother. The charity says the decision should be the “nail in the coffin” for discriminating against prospective tenants who receive Housing Benefit.
Although the Department of Social Security to which “DSS” refers is now defunct, in recent years it has become a common shorthand for refusing to consider prospective tenants if they receive Housing Benefit. Shelter says that almost two-thirds of private landlords either do not let, or are reluctant to let, to such tenants.
The Claimant, a 44-year old mother of two who suffers from ADHD, anxiety and depression, was searching for a new home after being served with a Section 21 Notice by her landlord. The Court heard that the agency refused to consider her application despite her having excellent references, a part-time job, having always paid rent on time, having a professional guarantor and offering six month’s rent in advance, thanks to a loan from her parents. The agency’s decision, she said, resulted in her becoming homeless and having to move into a hostel with her children.
The case was supported by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).
District Judge Victoria Mark ruled that the Claimant had been indirectly discriminated against due to her sex and disability, in contravention of the Equality Act 2010. The agency was ordered to pay the Claimant damages of £3,500. The judge said:
“This overall picture is also borne out by the simple calculation which shows that, whilst women make up 50.6% of the population, they constitute 61% of housing benefit claimants.
“It is therefore evident that women are substantially more likely than men to claim housing benefit and thus more likely to be adversely affected by a ‘No DSS’ policy.”
She added, “Again, it is clear that a ‘No DSS’ policy puts or would put persons who are disabled at a particular disadvantage.”
This judgment follows a move last year by major online lettings portals Zoopla and Rightmove, to ban the use of “No DSS” adverts on their websites.
Specialist property disputes solicitor, Mike Hansom, said:
“This is a very important judgment. Although, as a County Court judgment, it is not binding on other courts, in the absence of a defence under the Equality Act 2010, that the discriminatory practice is “a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim”, it would seem to me highly likely that other courts would come to the same decision. In this case, no such defence was raised, and for letting agents, it’s difficult to imagine how such a defence could reasonably be upheld.
“However, it’s important to note that while a blanket policy of refusing potential tenants because they claim Housing Benefit is unlawful, it does not mean that potential tenants who claim Housing Benefit cannot be refused.”
Mike also flagged up a potential conflict for landlords. “In principle, this decision must apply to landlords as well as to letting agents. For it not to do so would seem perverse. With that in mind, it’s important to remember that there are still some, albeit mostly older, mortgages which contain a condition that the property may not be let to Housing Benefit claimants.”