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County court determines that “no DSS” lettings policy discriminates against women and disabled tenants

The county court in York has ruled that “no DSS” lettings policies are unlawfully indirectly discriminatory towards women and disabled tenants.

The county court sitting in York has ruled that a lettings policy rejecting tenancy applications on the basis that the applicant is in receipt of housing benefit is unlawfully indirectly discriminatory, contrary to the Equality Act 2010 on the grounds of sex and disability.

County court decision

The action was backed by Shelter, the homeless charity, and was brought by an unnamed tenant referred to by the pseudonym “Jane”. Jane, a single mother of two, received a Section 21 “no-fault” eviction notice from her landlord. Jane then found a suitable two-bedroom property. However, the letting agent informed her that they would not rent the property to her due to a long-standing policy of not accepting tenants in receipt of housing benefit. As a result, Jane became homeless and was forced to move into a hostel with her children.

Jane is reported to have had excellent references for the previous nine years, had always paid her rent on time and had a professional guarantor. She also had the ability to pay up to six months’ rent in advance if necessary.

Research was provided to the court to be used as evidence that that so-called “No DSS” policies place women and disabled people at a particular disadvantage as they are more likely to receive housing benefit, and therefore disproportionately affected by the blanket “No DSS” policies.

District Judge Victoria Elizabeth Mark held that “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 the Equality Act 2010.”

“No DSS” lettings policies

Shelter has been at the forefront of an “End DSS Discrimination” campaign to prevent letting agents from implementing policies that allow tenants to be rejected on the basis they are in receipt of housing benefit.

Since 2018, the campaign has convinced certain lenders to remove restrictions in buy to let mortgages that prevent landlords from renting to tenants in receipt of housing benefit. The campaign has also persuaded housing market giants including Zoopla and Rightmove to remove similar restrictions from websites when advertising properties.

Whilst Jane’s case was the first to be addressed at court, it is reported that similar cases have settled out of court in favour of rejected benefit recipients, resulting in the recovery of damages and costs of up to £13,000.

There have been calls for additional government support by ensuring that such benefits cover rents entirely.

The finding of the county court at York is a warning to landlords and letting agents that they risk legal action if they continue to refuse to grant tenancies to potential tenants on the basis that they are in receipt of housing benefits.

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