Refusing to rent to people because they receive housing benefit is unlawful and discriminatory, according to a landmark ruling in the first hearing of its kind.
Shelter confirmed today that a York County Court judge declared the practice in breach of the Equality Act 2010 after a single mum was rejected by a letting agency and brought her case to court.
In what is a major breakthrough for campaigners, the charity called it a “clear warning” to letting agents and landlords that they risk legal action if they discriminate against people on benefits.
The hearing was held virtually on Wednesday July 1 after the disabled single mum of two, referred to in the ruling as Jane, was rejected by a letting agent because she receives housing benefit. She contacted Shelter for support.
Jane, who works part-time and now has permanent housing in a social home, was handed a Section 21 no-fault eviction notice from her landlord in her previous home.
When she finally found a two-bedroom house that would be suitable for her family, the letting agent said she would not be allowed to rent it because they do not accept housing benefit as payment, making her homeless and forcing her to move into a hostel with her children.
📢 Landmark court ruling confirms #NoDSS discrimination is unlawful.
Why does that matter? It shows landlords and letting agents that they risk legal action if they don’t stamp out these old discriminatory practices.
— Shelter (@Shelter) July 14, 2020
Jane said: “I was shocked and found it very unfair that they wouldn’t even give me a chance. I had excellent references from both my landlords of the last nine years as I’ve always paid my rent on time and I had a professional guarantor. I could pay up to six months’ rent in advance if they wanted it because my parents lent me the amount, which I then paid back to them monthly.
“But when the letting agent wouldn’t take me because of a company policy, I felt very offended that after all those years, when I have prided myself on paying my rent, paying my bills, being a good tenant, it just meant nothing. When I realised we were going to be homeless because I couldn’t find anywhere, I felt sick to my stomach.”
She said the ruling meant she could move on from the difficult experience, adding: “I hope I’ll have helped people who aren’t able to be as determined as me. It’s completely unfair to treat people like this, and I hope this will prove that letting agents can’t discriminate any longer.”
Up to 63 per cent of private landlords said they do not or prefer not to let to people on housing benefits, a so-called no DSS policy which Shelter said has stopped hundreds of thousands of people from getting homes they could afford.
District judge Victoria Elizabeth Mark declared that “rejecting tenancy applications because the applicant is in receipt of housing benefit was unlawfully indirectly discriminatory on the grounds of sex and disability, contrary to […] the Equality Act 2010″.
The practice disproportionately affects women and disabled people, who are more likely to receiving housing benefit.
This huge win will change so many lives
Rose Arnall, the Shelter solicitor who led the case, said: “This is the first time a court has fully considered a case like this. It finally clarifies that discriminating against people in need of housing benefit is not just morally wrong, it is against the law.
“Shelter has been fighting ‘No DSS’ for nearly two years, and this win in the courts is what’s needed to end these discriminatory practices for good. This sends a huge signal to letting agents and landlords that they must end these practices and do so immediately.”
The charity’s campaign has already convinced banks like NatWest, Metro Bank and Co-Op to remove DSS restrictions – restrictions preventing landlords from letting to people on housing benefit – from their mortgage terms.
And while Jane’s case was the first to make it to court, Shelter previously successfully settled similar cases out of court in favour of rejected benefit recipients and won them damages and costs of up to £13,000.
Shelter also persuaded housing market giants like Zoopla and Rightmove to remove similar restrictions from their sites.
The charity’s chief executive Polly Neate said: “This momentous ruling should be the nail in the coffin for ‘No DSS’ discrimination. It will help give security and stability to people who unfairly struggle to find a place to live just because they receive housing benefit. Shelter’s ‘No DSS’ campaign has had a tough fight for people’s right to a safe home. Congratulations to everyone involved for this huge win; it will change so many lives.”
After facing housing benefit discrimination, Shelter client Jane* pursued her case in the courts to help stamp out 'No DSS' policies for good.
This wasn’t easy, but it was worth it.
— Shelter (@Shelter) July 14, 2020
The landmark case was supported by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, the Nationwide Foundation and barrister Tessa Buchanan at Garden Court Chambers.
The barrister said: “‘No DSS’ policies have resulted in many thousands of people being unfairly excluded from properties which are suitable and affordable for them, simply because they rely on housing benefit and without any consideration of their individual circumstances. At a time when there is a serious shortage of social housing, this can leave people homeless or force them into substandard housing.
“This case is important because for the first time the court has declared that a ‘No DSS’ policy is unlawful on the grounds that it discriminates against women and disabled people. It should stand as a warning to other landlords and letting agents who have similar policies that they may be acting unlawfully.”