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“No DSS” policy declared unlawful by Court

Wednesday 15 July 2020

Tessa Buchanan of the Garden Court Housing Team acted for the Claimant and was instructed by Shelter.

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In a case with significant wider implications for renters across the country, a judge at the County Court at York has declared that a letting agent’s policy of automatically rejecting tenancy applications from applicants in receipt of benefits was unlawfully discriminatory under the Equality Act 2010.

“No DSS” policies, under which landlords and letting agents operate a blanket ban against people on Housing Benefit, have been widespread in the private rented sector for many years.  The consequence of such policies is that people are excluded from properties which are suitable and affordable for them without any consideration of their individual circumstances.

Research by Shelter showed that women and disabled people are more likely than men and non-disabled people to be in receipt of benefits and are thus disproportionately affected by No DSS policies.

In this case, “Jane”, a single mother with a disability, was told by a letting agent to whom she applied to rent a property they had had a policy “for many years not to accept housing benefit tenants”.  She brought proceedings in the County Court arguing that this was indirectly discriminatory and seeking a declaration and damages under the Equality Act 2010.

After several months of litigation, and with the eventual agreement of both parties, the Court made a declaration that the letting agent’s policy (which it had abandoned after the claim was issued) was “unlawfully indirectly discriminatory on the grounds of sex and disability contrary to sections 19 and 29 of the Equality Act 2010”.  The letting agent also agreed to pay Jane damages as well as her legal costs.

This case is the first in which a No DSS policy has been declared to be unlawful by the Court.  It was welcomed by Shelter, which has been campaigning against the practice for nearly two years, as a “landmark ruling” which “will make a difference to the lives of hundreds of thousands of private renters across the country…who receive housing benefit and have been facing discrimination when looking for a home”.

Tessa Buchanan acted for “Jane” and was instructed by Rose Arnall of Shelter.

The case has been covered in the BBC, Guardian, Nearly Legal, Inside Housing and BBC Woman's Hour.

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