A court has ruled that blanket bans on letting to people on housing benefit (no DSS policies) are indirectly discriminatory and has awarded a claimant £3,500.
A single disabled mother of two children aged 21 and 16 contacted a letting agent to view a property. She told the letting agent that “I work part time and receive some Housing Benefit”. The letting agent replied: “Many thanks for your enquiry regarding the above property for let. Unfortunately we do not accept housing benefit so could not proceed with a let on this basis.” The mother then brought a claim for indirect discrimination under the Equality Act 2010.
Why Did The Court Rule No DSS Policies Are “Indirect Discrimination”?
The court found that women and people with disabilities are more likely to be on housing benefit. It is unlawful to indirectly discriminate against protected characteristics, in this case sex and disability.
Indirect discrimination is defined in law as:
1) A person (A) discriminates against another (B) if A applies to B a provision, criterion or practice which is discriminatory in relation to a relevant protected characteristic of B’s.
(2) For the purposes of subsection (1), a provision, criterion or practice is discriminatory in relation to a relevant protected characteristic of B’s if—
(a) A applies, or would apply, it to persons with whom B does not share the characteristic,
(b) it puts, or would put, persons with whom B shares the characteristic at a particular disadvantage when compared with persons with whom B does not share it,
(c) it puts, or would put, B at that disadvantage, and
(d) A cannot show it to be a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.– Section 19 of Equality Act 2010
The court looked at statistics from the housing charity Shelter showing that women and disabled people are more likely to be on housing benefit. The court said:
The policy applied to persons with whom the Claimant does not share the protected characteristics, namely men and non-disabled people, as well as women and disabled people….
The policy put persons with whom the Claimant shares the protected characteristics of sex and disability (namely women and disabled people) at a particular disadvantage when compared with persons with whom the Claimant does not share the characteristics (namely men and non-disabled people).County Court at York
The parties in the case agreed that the policy wasn’t justified so arguments as to why this type of policy could be considered proportionate were not heard by the court. The judge ruled:
The burden is (or would be) on the Respondent to prove that the policy was a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim. The parties are agreed that the policy was not justified.County Court at York
Does This Case Set Precedent?
This case was heard in the County Court so it does not set precedent, meaning the ruling is not binding on other judges. However, if letting agents or landlords continue to have “no DSS policies” in place they will need to show the courts why they are “a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim”.
Does This Mean Landlords Cannot Refuse DSS Tenants?
No. It means that landlords cannot refuse tenants on the basis that they are DSS tenants, but if a DSS applicant is refused on other “proportionate grounds” this is lawful.
That means if a DSS applicant fails referencing, for example, it is unlikely that it would be unlawful to reject the tenant on this basis. However, not accepting an application on the grounds that the prospective tenant is on housing benefit is likely to be unlawful.
If you are a landlord or letting agent that has a “no DSS” policy it may be advisable to remove those words from any advertising you have and to contact a solicitor for full legal advice regarding your policies.