A landmark ruling has just determined that housing benefits discrimination and ‘No DSS’ adverts are a breach of the Equality Act. It is now therefore unlawful to discriminate against tenants on housing benefit, – and letting agents could now face prosecution if they continue to engage in this practice.

The case, which was heard at the York County Court was led by the strategic litigation team at Shelter, who have been campaigning to end benefits-based discrimination in the sector since 2018, when research revealed that at least 1 in 10 of the homes for rent advertised online stated that the property would not be let to applicants in receipt of housing benefit.

The Case

The case first arose in 2018, when a single mother of two who worked part-time was in the process of looking for a new home after losing their previous accomodation. After finding a suitable two-bedroomed property, she found herself turned away by the letting agent on the basis of them having a long-standing policy which reportedly meant that they were unable to accept applicants on housing benefit. She subsequently became homeless and contacted Shelter for help.

“I was shocked and found it very unfair that they wouldn’t even give me a chance. I had excellent references from both my landlords of the last nine years as I’ve always paid my rent on time and I had a professional guarantor.”

“I could have paid up to six months’ rent in advance because my parents lent me the amount. When the letting agent wouldn’t take me because of a company policy, I felt 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.”

“When I realised I was going to be homeless because I couldn’t find anywhere, I felt sick to my stomach.”

The Outcome

District Judge Victoria Elizabeth Mark found the letting agent to be in breach of the Equality Act for operating a policy of refusing to rent to individuals on benefits, commenting that the defendant’s former policy was “unlawfully indirectly discriminatory on the grounds of sex and disability contrary to Sections 19 and 29 of the Equality Act 2010”.

Shelter Response

Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, 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.”

Official Government Comment

“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.” ~ Minister for Rough Sleeping and Housing Luke Hall MP

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