Court ruling on 'no DSS' tenants policy is 'huge breakthrough' to end discrimination

14 July 2020, 08:36

Shelter said the ruling is "a huge breakthrough" for its End DSS Discrimination campaign and a "clear warning" to landlords [file photo]
Shelter said the ruling is "a huge breakthrough" for its End DSS Discrimination campaign and a "clear warning" to landlords [file photo]. Picture: PA
EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

A court ruling finding a letting agency's "No DSS" tenants policy discriminatory is a "momentum" judgement, according to a housing charity.

The county court ruling involved a single mother who asked about renting a property in the city, but she was told her application would not be considered as she was in receipt of housing benefit.

York County Court District Judge Victoria Mark ruled that the prospective tenant had been indirectly discriminated against due to her sex and disability.

In her ruling, the judge concluded: "The defendant's former policy of rejecting tenancy applications because the applicant is in receipt of housing benefit was unlawfully indirectly discriminatory on the grounds of sex and disability contrary to sections 19 and 29 of the Equality Act 2010."

The defendant, a lettings agent, and the claimant, a 44-year-old mother-of-two, were not named in the judgment.

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Housing charity Shelter hailed the ruling "a huge breakthrough" for its End DSS Discrimination campaign and a "clear warning" to landlords.

Chief executive Polly Neate said: "This momentous ruling should be the nail in the coffin for 'No DSS' discrimination.

"It will help give security and stability to people who unfairly struggle to find a place to live just because they receive housing benefit.

"Shelter's 'No DSS' campaign has had a tough fight for people's right to a safe home."

Rose Arnall, the Shelter solicitor who led the case, said: "This is the first time a court has fully considered a case like this.

"It finally clarifies that discriminating against people in need of housing benefit is not just morally wrong, it is against the law."

She said: "This sends a huge signal to letting agents and landlords that they must end these practices and do so immediately."

Shelter said 63% of private landlords say they do not let, or prefer not to let, to people who receive housing benefit.

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The claimant has been referred to by the pseudonym Jane by Shelter.

The charity said that Jane, who works part-time, was looking for a new home in October 2018 after receiving a Section 21 "no-fault" eviction from her landlord.

After she was rejected by the letting agency, she was made homeless and she was forced to move into a hostel with her children.

Jane said: "I was shocked and found it very unfair that they wouldn't even give me a chance."

She said she had excellent references, had always paid rent on time and had a professional guarantor. She said she was even able to pay six months' rent in advance through a loan from her parents.

Jane said: "I felt very offended that after all those years, when I have prided myself on paying my rent, paying my bills, being a good tenant, it just meant nothing."

The letting agent was ordered by the judge to pay £3,500 to Jane, who has ADHD, anxiety, and depression.

District Judge Mark said in her ruling: "This overall picture is also borne out by the simple calculation which shows that, whilst women make up 50.6% of the population, they constitute 61% of housing benefit claimants.

"It is therefore evident that women are substantially more likely than men to claim housing benefit and thus more likely to be adversely affected by a No DSS policy."

She also said: "Again, it is clear that a No DSS policy puts or would put persons who are disabled at a particular disadvantage."

Shelter's case was supported by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).

EHRC chief executive Rebecca Hilsenrath said: "Everyone has the right to a home.

"'No DSS' policies by landlords and estate agents clearly discriminate against many women and disabled people, as we saw in this case. We should never see it in a letting advert again.

"A decade after the Equality Act 2010 was brought into force, it's saddening that it's been necessary to fight so hard to protect the rights of tenants."

Minister for Rough Sleeping and Housing Luke Hall said: "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.

"That's why we have been working with landlords and letting agents to help ensure prospective tenants are treated on an individual basis and that benefits are not seen as a barrier to giving someone a place to live."

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government pointed out that major lettings portals Zoopla and Rightmove agreed last year to stop the use of "No DSS" adverts on their websites.