A landmark ruling from York County Court has found that housing benefit discrimination is unlawful and in breach of the Equalities Act. In a case brought by Jane* against an unnamed letting agent, it was found that the agent had unlawfully refused to rent any properties to her on the basis that she was a housing benefit claimant.
The successful legal action against the letting agent was taken on by Shelter’s strategic litigation team, who supported Jane and provided expert legal representation in court. The case was part-funded by the Equality and Human Rights Commission with additional support provided by the Nationwide Foundation.
The ruling, handed down by District Judge Victoria Elizabeth Mark in a virtual hearing on July 1st, will mean that landlords and letting agents must abandon outdated ‘No DSS’ practices, or face legal action.
Jane contacted Shelter after the unsuccessful attempt to rent a new home for her and her two children. Rather than presenting a risk to a new landlord or agent, Jane came with nine years of references from her previous landlords as well as the ability to pay six-months rent up front.
Jane said: “I was actually shocked and found it very unfair that they wouldn’t even give me a chance. But when they 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: “Getting this result is the end of a chapter – actually, I can close the book entirely. I live in a council house now and I am relieved to have a permanent home for my family. I hope I’ll have helped people who aren’t able to be as determined as me. It’s completely unfair to treat people like this, and I hope this will prove that letting agents can’t discriminate any longer.”
Leigh Pearce, chief executive of the Nationwide Foundation, said: “We welcome this landmark judgment and were delighted to support Shelter with this case. We know that the benefits system can be difficult for tenants, landlords and letting agents and requires reform, but the fact that people were denied the opportunity to rent properties simply because they were claiming benefits is a scandal. This ruling provides clarity for all parties as well as giving tenants fairer access to homes.”
*Jane is an assumed name. Shelter’s client wishes to remain anonymous.