Housing providers owe duties to service users / tenants under the Equality Act 2010 where the service user has a 'protected characteristic'.
Protected characteristics include:
- Sexual orientation
- Marital status
- Pregnancy and maternity
- Religion or belief
- Gender reassignment
Housing providers must not discriminate against any person who has a protected characteristic, is perceived to have a protected characteristic, or is associated with a person who has a protected characteristic.
The Equality Act 2010 outlaws direct discrimination, indirect discrimination, harassment and victimisation.
Claims of indirect discrimination are often brought by service users, against housing providers, as a result of the stringent application of inflexible policies, criteria or practices, which cause detriment to service users with a particular protected characteristic. For example, where housing providers only assign repair contracts to limited contractors, delay may be caused in carrying out the repairs due to working demands. This delay may put disabled service users at a detriment if it results in exacerbation of their health condition.
Claims of direct discrimination can often be made where derogatory comments have been made to service users, regarding their protected characteristic. In this instance, concurrent claims of harassment may also be brought.
Victimisation, whilst less common, occurs when a person does a 'protected act' and is subjected to a detriment as a result of this.
For those whose protected characteristic is disability, discrimination can also occur by way of:
- Discrimination arising out of a disability; and
- Failure to make reasonable adjustments.
Discrimination arising from a disability can occur where a person is subjected to a detriment as a result of something which can be said to be an effect of, or caused by, their disability.
Failure to make reasonable adjustments can occur when a service user requires adjustments to be made in respect of their housing, to prevent them from being put at a disadvantage due to their disabilities, and a housing provider does not make the adjustments, even when it is considered a ‘reasonable’ adjustment. What is considered to be reasonable will vary on a case by case basis, because various factors must be taken into account, including the specific disability of the service user but also, the resources available to the housing provider. Further, housing providers are only under a duty to make reasonable adjustments where they are aware, or should be aware, that the service user has a disability.
Examples include housing providers failing to make reasonable adjustments to enable service users to bid on properties, for example by not providing a list of available properties in an accessible format.
Who can claims be brought against?
Claims can be brought against:
- Housing associations
- Local authorities
- Private landlords
- Letting agents
- Property management agencies.
Where the housing provider is an organisation, they will be responsible for the acts of their employees, however claims can also be brought against the individual employees and this is most common where the claim involves comments made by an employee, which could constitute harassment.
When a service user is intending to commence legal proceedings, a legal 'letter before action' must first be sent to the housing provider setting out the alleged acts of discrimination in full, the relevant law relied upon, and the remedies sought. The housing provider must be provided with a reasonable timescale in which to respond.
Claim must be issued in the County Court within six months less one day of the alleged discriminatory act (if it is a one off incident) or the last act of discrimination (if there has been an ongoing series of alleged discriminatory acts).
These time limits are strictly imposed and it is therefore imperative that service users act fast in taking action, and it is imperative that housing providers take urgent steps to resolve issues, when faced with a complaint and/or a letter before action.
If you are a service user and feel that you have been discriminated against, or a housing provider looking for advice on dealing with a potential claim being brought against you, please contact Stephensons' discrimination law team on 01616 966 229.
By Charlotte Brain, case manager in the employment and discrimination department.