Rejecting tenants on housing benefit deemed indirect discrimination

24 Jul 2020 | Adele Pinkett

In a recent decision in the County Court at York it was held that a letting agent’s policy of rejecting tenancy applications because the applicants were 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.

Shelter represented the Claimant and analysed data from a number of sources. Evidence was provided that whilst women make up 50.6% of the population they constitute 61% of housing benefit claimants. Disabled households were also shown to be five times more likely to rely on housing benefit compared to non-disabled households.

This particular case concerned a single mother with a disability who was in employment. She had been refused a viewing after she had disclosed that she was receiving housing benefit and was expressly advised “Rather than it being on an ad hoc basis we have had a policy for many years not to accept housing benefit tenants”. Damages were awarded in the sum of £3,500.

This is a county court judgment and is not therefore binding on other county court judges however it is anticipated that other courts will follow suit. Private housing in the capital remains unaffordable for the vast majority of those receiving benefits and this decision is likely to have a greater impact outside of London.

Although a positive and welcome decision, it may lead to letting agents and landlords being less overt in their reasons for rejecting applicants. A large number of the population are suffering from financial hardship as a result of COVID 19 and hopefully this decision will encourage letting agents and landlords to consider applicants from a broader background or risk the cost of litigation.

Blog post written by Adele Pinkett, Housing and Social Care team

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