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Discrimination in social housing

View profile for Maria Chadwick
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Can claims for discrimination be brought against a Housing Association?

Are you being discriminated against by your social housing provider?

Often, social housing tenants won’t recognise that what they’re experiencing is discrimination. But if you’re making a complaint because of unfair treatment by a housing organisation, it could fall under the legal definition of discrimination.

If the treatment is discriminatory, then you have rights - protected under the law - based on certain “protected characteristics”. In other words, it is unlawful if you suffer detrimental treatment by a social housing provider, because of a protected characteristic.

The Equality Act 2010 says that discrimination can occur if you are not treated equally because of:

  • Disability
  • Pregnancy and maternity
  • Age
  • Race
  • Religious beliefs
  • Gender
  • Gender reassignment
  • Sexual orientation

Social housing organisations are duty bound to not discriminate against you and your housing needs based on any of those characteristics, which might be part of you or your lifestyle.

For example, if a person is disabled, the housing provider has a legal duty to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to rented accommodation where failing to make such adjustments would mean that person was left disadvantaged compared to someone without a disability. In fact, failure to make a reasonable adjustment to a property is one of the most common cases made against housing organisations. 

What does the law say about social housing?

In general terms, social housing providers have an obligation to provide tenants with a property which is in a reasonable state of repair.

They should also make sure that the structure of the property is sound, that all supplies of utilities – water, gas, electricity – are in working order and that there are no defects which could cause injury or damages to any belongings or possessions.

Crucially, the property should be suitable for the tenant to move into - and live comfortably in - from the moment the tenancy begins. The property should also be safe and secure and the tenant should also have easy access to their new home.

What form might discrimination take?

There are a wide range of different types of discrimination that can take place with regard to social housing. A few more common examples are:

Disability

Anyone with a physical or mental impairment with a substantial or long-term effect of 12 months or more is defined as disabled by law. As such, people like cancer patients or someone receiving treatment for long-term anxiety or depression will likely be considered disabled. This allows them to make a claim for discrimination if their social housing needs are not met by the provider, resulting in detrimental treatment compared to those who do not have a disability. However, a person recovering from a relatively minor injury – such as a broken ankle - is unlikely to have a case against the landlord to make ‘reasonable adjustments’.

Aside from this, social housing providers can also be taken to court for failing to make appropriate adjustments to the social housing bidding process for a disabled person where necessary. These adjustments should include greater flexibility in the bidding process, such as auto-bidding or offering more time to bid. Not offering such adjustments could be discriminatory.

Pregnancy

If you are about to start maternity leave on a reduced salary you may still qualify under the means criteria to occupy social housing. If a social housing provider insists on you providing a guarantor against your rental - despite you meeting the means criteria - then you could have a potential discrimination claim.

Abusive neighbours

If you are abused by neighbours because of a protected characteristic – perhaps because of sexual orientation or race - the housing provider must investigate your complaint and take the necessary steps to prevent the discrimination, as far as possible. Failing to do so could amount to discrimination.

Taking action against social housing discrimination

Your social housing provider should have an internal grievance, complaints or appeals policy for tenants to highlight possible discrimination and to receive reasonable adjustments to a property or to the organisation’s policies.

A provider should review your complaint within a few weeks. If there is significant delay which makes things worse for the tenant then this constitutes a failing.

If you don’t get the adjustments you have requested, you are obliged to ask again. However, if the issue has not been resolved within 6-8 weeks, you are able to bring a claim for discrimination in the county court. It is vital that you do this within a period of six months less one day of the date of the act of discrimination; otherwise, your case cannot be heard.  

Though social housing tenants can be nervous about challenging their housing provider -because of the fear of eviction - tenants are protected by law and their housing provider cannot evict them or treat them unfairly because of an ongoing dispute.

When are the housing provider’s actions not discrimination?

The test for discrimination is whether your request is ‘reasonable’.

A tenant’s request for a ‘reasonable adjustment’ is judged against many factors which will be subjective to each individual case. However, by way of example, factors could include the length of tenancy, how much the adjustment would cost and the resources available to the authority.  There is no duty to make changes that affect the structure of the building that would permanently alter the home – such as adding or removing walls, installing permanent ramps - if the change is too costly or the tenancy is only short-term.

You can appeal against a decision at which time you get some advice from a legal expert. A solicitor will be able to provide a ‘letter of claim’ which could help the appeal process move more quickly.

A solicitor can also help if the general circumstances for the tenant are discriminatory, such as where a provider won’t make adjustments because of a short-term tenancy. A solicitor can challenge the provider on why a longer tenancy wasn’t provided from the outset.

Getting legal advice on social housing discrimination

Before seeking legal advice, make sure you have already raised the matter through the authority’s formal complaints / appeals procedure, explaining how you’ve been treated and stating your protected characteristic. However, make sure you wait no more than eight weeks before contacting a solicitor, if your complaint remains.

A solicitor will then consider all the circumstances, make an assessment and advise you as to whether you may have a claim against the provider.

Your legal representative can seek ‘injunctive relief’, where a judge in the county court can make an order for the housing organisation to make the adjustments you need. The court will also assess any compensation for financial loss which you have incurred and/or injury to feelings caused by the discriminatory conduct.

We can help

If you have any doubts about your treatment by a housing provider and wish to talk to a legal expert in this area, contact Stephensons. Our specialist discrimination law team are experts in representing social housing tenants and will be happy to help. Call us on 0175 321 6399 or complete our online enquiry form.

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