EMILY HENCHER | LEGAL JARGON WRITER
A blanket ban on tenants who receive housing support is a policy used by many private landlords and letting agents across the UK. A recent decision in York has labelled this policy as discriminatory and many headlines have claimed that this is the end of ‘No DSS’ restrictions.
The claimant was a woman who was working and was also receiving some housing benefits because of her disability status. When she was looking for a house the letting agents refused to let her view a property because they had a policy of not allowing any tenants who received housing benefits.
In this case the courts determined that the policy in question constituted indirect discrimination because the provision was discriminatory in relation to the protected characteristics that the claimant fell into. Under the Equalities Act 2010, this kind of provision is categorised as unlawful indirect discrimination.
When examined against her comparators – namely a male who is not disabled – she was subject to a more detrimental effect. Data given by homelessness charity, Shelter, confirmed that as a woman she was 1.2 times more likely to receive housing benefits than a man. Furthermore, as a person with a disability she was 5 times more likely to rely on housing benefits than a person with no disability. Clearly as a person belonging to these protected characteristics she was more substantially impacted by this policy.
The parties agreed that the policy was unlawful.
The legality of ‘no DSS’ policies has been in question for many years with several people linking the issue to discrimination laws. Until now, all cases were settled before they actually went to trial so there has been no decision officially naming it as discriminatory.
This decision was made in a local county court and has no binding precedent for other courts to follow. As has been shown in the past, matters like this are usually settled before trial so it is likely that future cases would be handled in the same way. However, it is expected that this would be followed by higher courts if the issue were to arise.
The broader impact of this case is that we are likely to see an impressive decrease or total eradication of ‘no DSS’ restrictions from private landlords. Where landlords choose to include this phrasing, this decision may be used to highlight that the policy constitutes unlawful indirect discrimination. Shelter has called the decision ‘historic’ and predicts that it will make a huge difference to hundreds of people searching for houses in the future especially considering that 63% of landlords were operating under this policy.
The ‘No DSS’ policy is something that has been of personal interest to me for a while. ‘No DSS’ policies make a sweeping generalised statement about all people in that category essentially labelling them as untrustworthy. Having worked with Citizens Advice, I have seen first-hand the stress and trauma that homelessness can bring and being turned away because you are receiving some extra help can be heart breaking.
I have also noticed ‘No Student’ policies operating in a similar way and I have been rejected from flat viewings several times based on the fact that I am student. Just like someone receiving housing benefits is more than likely to be an excellent hard working trustworthy tenant, so too is a student. I would be interested to see the statistics with regards to students and to examine whether the principle of unlawful, indirect discrimination could apply to this restriction as well.
This development and the condemnation of DSS restrictions is an incredible step in the right direction. No one should be refused access to a home because of biases based on unfounded stereotypes.
Emily is a recent LLB Graduate from Scotland completing the Diploma in Legal Practice next year. She is passionate about innovation in the legal sector, showing particular interest in technology and corporate law. With a background in fundraising, she is hoping to specialise in charities and public sector work.
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