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Court rules 'No DSS' letting bans as 'unlawful' and 'discriminatory'

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A County Court has ruled that a letting agency’s “No DSS” policy was discriminatory against a prospective tenant, in what is being termed a “momentous” judgment.

It is understood that a disabled, single mother was refused the chance to move into a private rented property, as a result of being in receipt of housing benefit. It is understood that the lady subsequently ended up homeless with her two children, and required the assistance of a housing charity, as a result.

The “landmark” court case saw District Judge Victoria Mark rule “rejecting tenancy applications because the applicant is in receipt of housing benefit was unlawfully discriminating on the grounds of sex and disability, contrary to sections 19 and 29 of the Equality Act 2010”.

It is understood to be the first time that a court has ruled that the “No DSS” rule operated by many private landlords has breached equality laws, despite the application of such having affected a substantial amount of people and prevented them from renting suitable homes for themselves and their families.

Shelter, understood to have had the support of  the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) in this case, commented that the ruling “sends a huge signal to letting agents and landlords that they must end these practices and do so immediately”.

Luke Hall, MP is reported to have commented, “Everyone should have the same opportunity when looking for a home, and discriminating against someone simply because they receive benefits has no place in a modern housing market”.

Maria Chadwick, Partner and Department Manager of the Discrimination Law Team, observes, “This ruling does not necessarily set precedent for all of those in receipt of welfare benefits to be considered discriminated against by such policies and that such will still need to be considered on the claimant’s individual circumstances and their protected characteristics in accordance with the provisions of the Equality Act. Whilst it does not open the floodgates for these claims it is encouraging that the issue has been fully considered by the Court in this case and will hopefully bring about some change in the policies implemented across the lettings market, to the benefit of those who are genuinely placed at a detriment by their application due to their disability and gender.”

Application of the Equality Act to this case

Section 19 Equality Act 2010 protects individuals who have a protected characteristic, from being discriminated against indirectly by the application of a provision, criterion or practice, to everybody in the same way, but which puts an individual with a protected characteristic at a particular disadvantage. Protected characteristics include:

  • Age
  • Disability
  • Gender Reassignment
  • Marriage or Civil Partnership
  • Pregnancy and Maternity
  • Race
  • Religion or Belief
  • Sex
  • Sexual Orientation

Section 29 of the Equality Act 2010 prohibits service providers, and organisations exercising public functions, from doing anything that constitutes discrimination, harassment or victimisation.

How we can help you

If you feel that you may have been subjected to discrimination, it is important to remember that there are strict time limits to bring such a claim in the County Court. It is therefore important that you seek specialist legal advice without delay following an incident of discrimination.

If you need further advice regarding discrimination, please contact our specialist discrimination law team on 0161 696 6170.

By Abigail Martland, employment and discrimination advisor