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Shelter has declared a York County Court ruling ‘historic’ and a ‘nail in the coffin for ‘No DSS’ discrimination.
District Judge Victoria Elizabeth Mark held that rejecting tenants on the basis that the application is in receipt of housing benefit is unlawfully as it is indirectly discriminatory on the grounds of sex and disability.
The housing charity Shelter said the decision was a clear warning to other landlords and letting agents that they risk legal action if they continue to bar housing benefit tenants from renting. Landlords and agents seem less than convinced.
The case involved a single mother of two who was told she could not rent the property she wanted because the letting agent said it had a long-standing policy of not accepting housing benefit tenants. This was in spite of her being able to pay six month’s rent in advance. Shelter’s Strategic Litigation Team subsequently took on the case and supported the court action.
Shelter said its research showed that ‘No DSS’ policies put women and disabled people at a particular disadvantage because they are more likely to receive housing benefit. But at the moment, the only way that victims of DSS discrimination can seek formal redress is through a county court claim.
Shelter has been involved in a number of such cases and to date all have resulted in the defendant agents or landlords agreeing to change their practices and offering apologies and compensation to their clients.
Shelter solicitor Rose Arnall, who led the case, said this had been the first time a court has fully considered landlords’ and agents’ refusals to take on DSS tenants. She said the case ‘finally clarifies that discriminating against people in need of housing benefit is not just morally wrong, it is against the law.
‘This win in the courts is what’s needed to end these discriminatory practices for good. This sends a huge signal to letting agents and landlords that they must end these practices and do so immediately’.
Shelter admits that over 60 per cent of private landlords say they prefer not to let to people who receive housing benefits.
Landlords themselves say this has nothing to do with discrimination and everything to do DSS rules and the ‘Prescott decision’ to stop paying rent benefits direct to landlords.
One landlord has been quoted as saying the York victory was ‘hollow’ and that ‘not a single tenant on benefits will be helped’ by the decision.
Another said nothing will change until the Government gets rid of clawback provisions. ’There are a million reasons why an agent or landlord can reject a tenant’s application, all this means is they can no longer have a one size fits all “no DSS” policy, which most have stopped doing anyway’.
The letting agents’ professional body ARLA Propertymark said it has consistently highlighted the issues faced by both tenants and landlords with Universal Credit being paid in arrears. ‘The design of the system with payments made in arrears makes paying rent on time impossible for many tenants and this presents issues for landlords who are relying on the rent to make mortgage payments’.