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Six in 10 landlords could be breaking the law after historic housing benefit ruling

Melissa Lawford
·3-min read
illustration
illustration

Two thirds of landlords could be in breach of the law after a court in York ruled that it is unlawful to refuse to let homes to tenants because they are on housing benefits.

In the first housing benefit discrimination case heard in a British court, district judge Victoria Elizabeth Mark declared that so-called “No DSS” policies are in breach of the Equality Act.

The landmark ruling is a warning to landlords and letting agents that they could face legal action if they operate policies that bar housing benefit tenants from renting.

Research by the homelessness charity Shelter found that 63pc of private landlords say that they do not let, or prefer not to let, to people receiving housing benefits.

These “No DSS” policies particularly disadvantage women and disabled people, because they are more likely to receive housing benefits, Shelter said.

The York hearing took place virtually on July 1. The case involved a single mother called Jane who works part-time and lives with a disability.

Jane (who spoke using a pseudonym) and her children were made homeless and had to stay in a hostel after a letting agent refused to consider her application to rent an affordable property on the grounds that they did not accept housing benefit tenants.

Jane had rented successfully for nine years until being served a “no-fault” eviction notice. She had good references from her former landlords and a full-time employed guarantor, and had arranged for her parents to lend her six months’ rent to pay in advance. Yet she was still refused.

She said: “When the letting agent wouldn’t take me because of a company policy, 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.”

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

Shelter has been campaigning to end DSS discrimination and the charity’s strategic litigation team took on the case.

Rose Arnall, the Shelter solicitor who led the case, said the ruling "sends a huge signal to letting agents and landlords that they must end these practices and do so immediately". 

Chris Norris, of the National Residential Landlords Association, a trade body, said landlords should not have blanket policies that discriminate against those in receipt of benefits.

“Every tenant’s circumstance is different and so they should be treated on a case by case basis based on their ability to sustain a tenancy,” said Mr Norris.

Luke Hall, MP and Minister for Rough Sleeping and Housing, said: "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," he added.