York court rules ‘No DSS’ discrimination unlawful

A York court has handed out a landmark ruling which deems housing benefit discrimination unlawful and in breach of equality law.

In a virtual hearing on Wednesday 1 July, District Judge Victoria Elizabeth Mark declared at York County Court that rejecting housing applications from tenants because they are in receipt of housing benefit is unlawfully ‘indirectly discriminatory on the grounds of sex and disability’, contrary to the Equality Act 2010.

It is the first time that a ‘no DSS’ discrimination case has been heard by a UK court, as previous cases have all been settled out of court.

The ruling, which puts landlords and letting agents at risk of legal action if they bar housing benefit tenants from renting, has been hailed by the housing charity Shelter which has long campaigned against the practice.

Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, said: “This momentous ruling should be the nail in the coffin for ‘No DSS’ discrimination.

“It will help give security and stability to people who unfairly struggle to find a place to live just because they receive housing benefit.”

The case reached York County Court after a letting agent refused to rent to a disabled single mother-of-two looking for a new home in October 2018 because she receives housing benefit.

The woman, who works part-time and cannot be named, was made homeless due to the letting agent’s ‘No DSS’ policy and was forced to move into a hostel with her children.

The woman contacted Shelter and sought compensation through a county court claim, the only route of formal redress currently available to victims of ‘DSS’ discrimination.

‘No DSS’ policies remain widespread in the private rented sector as a YouGov survey last year found that 63% of private landlords in England do not let, or prefer not to let, to people who receive housing benefit.

Experts say that England’s social housing shortage makes such practices more likely to leave people homeless or force them into substandard housing.

The ruling vindicates Shelter research which shows that ‘No DSS’ policies unfairly disadvantage women and disabled people in finding a home, as they are more likely to receive housing benefit.

The woman’s case was supported by Shelter’s strategic litigation team, the Equality and Human Rights Commission, the Nationwide Foundation, and barristers Garden Court Chambers.

Rebecca Hilsenrath, chief executive of EHRC, said: “Everyone has the right to a home. ‘No DSS’ policies by landlords and estate agents clearly discriminate against many women and disabled people, as we saw in Jane’s case. We should never see it in a letting advert again.

“A decade after the Equality Act 2010 was brought into force, it’s saddening that it’s been necessary to fight so hard to protect the rights of tenants. We’re proud to have worked with Shelter on this case; the ruling will go a long way to ensure all renters’ rights are equal, regardless of their life situation or background.”

Shelter’s ‘End DSS Discrimination’ campaign aims to stamp out DSS discrimination by securing legal victories against rogue letting agents, and persuading banks, insurers, and property portals to remove their DSS restrictions.

Last year, campaigners welcomed a government announcement that it would seek to end ‘blanket exclusions’ of DSS tenants in housing adverts, with a view to stopping them altogether.

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