Specialist property litigation firm Hägen Wolf is warning landlords and letting agents of the consequences for discriminating against benefit claimants.
A landmark ruling in 2018 held that a blanket ban on renting to tenants in receipt of housing benefit is unlawful and amounts to indirect discrimination on the grounds of sex and disability under Sections 19 and 29 of the Equality Act 2010. The evidence presented to the court demonstrated that women and disabled people are the groups most likely to be reliant on housing benefits.
The firm states that despite this 63% of private landlords either operating an outright ban on letting to tenants receiving housing benefit or saying they prefer not to let to this group, according to a 2020 YouGov survey.
Matt Pugh, managing partner of Hägen Wolf, comments: “While County Court decisions are not binding, it is likely that this case will be relied upon in similar cases in future and should there be an appeal to the High Court, the appeal decision would be binding.”
The Claimant’s legal representation was arranged by charity Shelter who have supported several similar cases which have settled out of court.
It was in October 2018 that an unnamed tenant was told her landlord wanted the property back for a family member to live. A ‘no-fault’ Section 21 notice was then served.
While looking for somewhere else to live, on 26th November 2018 she saw an advert for a two-bedroom property in York for £795 per month. The Claimant contacted the Defendant to request a viewing. She told them that she had excellent references, payment history, and worked part-time while receiving some Housing Benefit.
Her request was denied because the Defendant agency did not accept applications from prospective tenants on housing benefit. The Claimant queried this and was told that “rather than it being on an ad hoc basis, we have had a policy for many years not to accept housing benefit tenants.”
In her ruling, Judge Victoria Elizabeth Mark said that “rejecting tenancy applications because the applicant is in receipt of housing benefit was unlawfully indirectly discriminatory on the grounds of sex and disability, contrary to […] the Equality Act 2010”.
Pugh concludes: “The practice of excluding potential tenants simply because they are on housing benefits is widespread and this issue will now have to be addressed by landlords and agents alike.
“The ruling means that letting agents and private landlords will have to review their advertising material and vetting policies to ensure that renters who rely on housing benefits are no longer automatically barred from renting from private landlords.
“There is, however, nothing to stop landlords pricing such tenants out of the market or relying on other non-discriminatory criteria.”