This has for years been a common message relayed from a Landlord to their letting agent and from the Letting Agent to potential tenants. It’s also something that has been challenged frequently over the years as ‘unlawful discrimination’ but until now had never reached a court for them to give a ruling over if it was or wasn’t.
Rather than be the end of the matter, we feel that this may actually only just be the beginning.
The background to this is important, the brief overview is that:
DSS is an older reference to the more Recent Housing Benefit or current Universal Credit (which combines all benefits into one). The claimant in this case was looking to move home and informed the Letting Agent (the defendant) that they were claiming Housing Benefit. The Agent responded in an email stating that they have a policy of not accepting Housing Benefit Tenants.
The District Judge ruled that the policy of rejecting all Housing Benefit Tenants is unlawfully indirectly discriminatory based on the grounds of sex and disability based on sections 19 and 29 of the Equality Act 2010.
This decision was made on the basis that statistically 53.1% of female single adult households renting privately claim Housing Benefit compared to 34% of Male. Also that 44.6% of households who are disabled and claim Disability Living Allowance or Severe Disablement Allowance also claim Housing Benefit compared to 15.1% of households that do not.
What Does This All Mean?
This is the important question and in practice the main takeaway is that the practice of a ‘blanket ban policy’ by a letting agent is unlawfully discriminatory.
What this case doesn’t really address is how this in turn will effect landlords, as a Landlord may also be bound by other constraints potentially imposed by mortgage lenders and or Head Leases over the type of tenants who the property may be sublet to. These restriction are now likely to be challenged and changed also.
But in theory a landlord may have a legitimate defense against unlawful discrimination of ‘no DSS’.
It also doesn’t address the fact that most housing is not affordable for people claiming housing benefit as the benefit is capped and the entitlement is set based on the 30th Percentile of housing stock in the local authority area based on what tenants not claiming housing benefit are paying. This by default means housing benefit tenants are restricted to the cheapest and typically therefore poorest accommodation, or they are forced to stretch past the benefits they receive to secure a better property.
On this basis, where a housing benefit tenant is stretching beyond the limit of the benefits they receive (and any other income) the landlord can refuse an application based on their ability to make the required rental payments.
What this does mean, and rightly so, is that every potential tenant should be assessed on their circumstances and individual merits before a blanket decision is made to reject them with no further questioning. A housing benefit tenant with the means to make the rental payments and satisfy other referencing criteria must be considered in the same light as any other tenant.
If you have any further questions: