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Assistance dogs in rented accommodation

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Blind woman and guide dog thrown out of a hotel due to allegations that her assistance dog was "fake"

Assistance dogs are not viewed to be pets. They are auxiliary aids that have been trained in order to provide assistance to disabled people, who often rely upon their assistance dogs to assist them with their day-to-day tasks.

Dogs which qualify as assistance dogs must fit the legal definition provided by the Equality Act 2010 (section 173), which defines an assistance dog as:

  • a dog which has been trained to guide a blind person
  • a dog which has been trained to assist a deaf person
  • a dog which has been trained to assist a disabled person who has a disability that otherwise affects the person’s mobility (or similar mobility related conditions)
  • a dog which has been trained to assist a disabled person with another disability.

The law applies to all assistance dogs, regardless of whether they are trained by a registered organisation. This means that owner-trained assistance dogs theoretically have the same legal rights as an assistance dog that has trained by an Assistance Dogs (UK) charity or any other training provider.

There is currently no register or certification process in place for assistance dogs and there is no requirement for the handler to disclose the details of their disability to a service provider, if asked.

There is also no formal requirement for assistance dogs to wear any form of special identification. However, some handlers choose to do so, for example assistance dogs who have been trained by a member organisation of Assistance Dogs (UK) will have formal identification such as an identification tag or an identifiable harness, jacket, or lead slip. 

Do owners of emotional support animals have the same rights as assistance dogs?

Currently the Equality Act 2010 does not include specific reference to emotional support animals, who provide emotional and psychological support to their owners, and therefore do not enjoy the same rights as assistance dogs.

The law surrounding assistance dogs in rented accommodation

Under the Equality Act 2010, it is against the law for service providers, including landlords, rental agencies and housing associations to treat disabled people less favourably because of their disability, including disabled persons who rely on an assistance dog.

Landlords, rental agencies, and other housing providers must look to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people who use assistance dogs, including making changes to any policies or practices they have that may place a tenant at a disadvantage because of their disability. This could involve, but is not limited to, amending a term in a tenancy agreement which prevents tenants from having pets to allow a tenant to have an assistance dog reside with them. If a tenant is disabled and requires an assistance dog with them in their home, and a landlord refuses to make a reasonable adjustment for them to enable them to benefit from this, it could be considered to be an act of discrimination.

A landlord should not increase rent or charge additional cleaning fees to assistance dog owning tenants, even if a contract states that landlords can add additional charges for pet fees.

If you are a landlord, rental agency or other housing provider and you are unsure with regard to your responsibilities for accommodating tenants with assistance dogs, or if you are a tenant who requires advice about keeping an assistance dog in your home, please do not hesitate to contact our specialist discrimination law team on 0161 696 6170.

By Heather Lynch, graduate paralegal