The much-criticised practice of some landlords and their agents of excluding those in receipt of state benefits from obtaining private rented accommodation has been effectively outlawed by a judge’s ruling on the basis that it amounts to indirect disability discrimination.
The case concerned an energetic and determined young man who wished to provide for his large family but who suffered from physical and mental disabilities, including an emotionally unstable personality disorder. He and his wife received state benefits, including housing benefit, which totalled over £2,400 a month. Living with a relative in very cramped conditions, he was desperate to find a new home to rent and identified three suitable properties that he could easily afford.
After he telephoned a letting agency, however, he was informed that none of the properties would be let to people on benefits and that it was company policy ‘not to accept DSS’, an acronym which refers to the long-defunct Department for Social Security. With the backing of housing charity Shelter, he launched proceedings against the agency under the Equality Act 2010 on the basis that it had operated an unlawful and discriminatory policy, criterion or practice (PCP).
Upholding his claim, the judge accepted his account of what was said during the phone call and noted that one of the properties had been advertised using the words ‘no pets, no smokers, no DSS’. The agency would have been aware from the trade press of controversy surrounding ‘no DSS’ policies and that they disadvantaged disabled people disproportionately.
Although the relevant PCP was applied to all the agency’s prospective tenants, statistics put forward by Shelter starkly underlined its particular impact on disabled people, who are between three and five times more likely to claim housing benefit than non-disabled people. They are thus also three to five times more likely to be excluded by ‘no DSS’ policies from obtaining private tenancies.
The man had suffered considerable distress following the phone call. He felt written off and disrespected because he was in receipt of state benefits. He considered that a lesser value had been placed on him as a human being than on others who receive their income by way of salary, trust fund or parental support. The judge ordered the agency to pay him £6,000 in damages to reflect the injury to his feelings.