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Court finds it unlawful for landlords to operate 'no DSS' policy

A judge has ruled that it is illegal for landlords to operate ‘no DSS’ policies that refuse letting to people claiming benefits.

District Judge Mark ruled at York County Court: “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.” It was deemed contrary to sections 19 and 29 of the Act.

Housing charity Shelter, which brought the case, said it 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”.

Shelter was contacted by ‘Jane’, a single mother of two children, after a letting agent refused to rent any properties to her because she receives housing benefit. She became homeless as a result.

The charity said some 63% of private landlords either refuse to let homes to people who receive housing benefit, or prefer not to. 

It said such ‘no DSS’ policies put women and disabled people at a particular disadvantage because they were more likely to receive housing benefit. 

Shelter’s legal team said it had taken similar cases to county courts and all had resulted in the defendant agents or landlords agreeing to change their practices and offering apologies and compensation. 

It was though also keen to have its research and legal analysis considered by the courts. The letting agent in the case cannot be named for legal reasons.  

Rose Arnall, the Shelter solicitor who led the case, said: “This is the first time a court has fully considered a case like this. It finally clarifies that discriminating against people in need of housing benefit is not just morally wrong, it is against the law.

“Shelter has been fighting ‘No DSS’ for nearly two years, and 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.”

Tessa Buchanan, barrister at Garden Court Chambers, said: “‘This case is important because for the first time the court has declared that a ‘no DSS’ policy is unlawful on the grounds that it discriminates against women and disabled people.

“It should stand as a warning to other landlords and letting agents who have similar policies that they may be acting unlawfully.”

Mark Smulian

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