Can Letting Agents Refuse To Let A Property To Me Because I Receive Benefits?
A “no DSS” blanket ban is when a letting agent refuses to rent to anyone who receives universal credit or housing benefit. The effect of this is that people on benefits are automatically rejected without any consideration of their individual circumstances. DSS refers to the old Department of Social Security which was replaced by the Department for Work and Pensions in 2001.
On three occasions the courts have ruled that “no DSS” blanket bans are unlawful under the Equality Act 2010 because they indirectly discriminate against women and disabled people. Official statistics show that women and disabled people are more likely to receive housing related benefits and therefore “no DSS” policies have a disproportionate impact on them.
Unlawful “no DSS” blanket bans could include when agents refuse to allow you to view an affordable property, refuse to consider you for a tenancy, charge you a higher rent or a higher deposit or give you a worse contract or service because you receive benefits. Letting agents must not have such blanket policies.
An agent can carry out affordability and referencing checks before offering you a tenancy. You need to show that you can afford the advertised rent and any upfront costs such as a deposit. Affordability and referencing checks should not be necessary to simply view a property.
It is likely to be “no DSS” discrimination if a property is affordable, but the agent makes assumptions about your suitability or your ability to pay because you receive benefits. It is also likely to be “no DSS” discrimination if the agent tells you that you will automatically fail affordability and referencing checks because you receive benefits. An agent should not use external referencing companies that automatically exclude people in receipt of benefits or do not take into account income from benefits.
An agent must not hide behind the excuse that it is the landlord’s choice not to rent to people in receipt of benefits as this is not a legal excuse. Most mortgage lenders have dropped restrictions on renting to people in receipt of benefits and many insurance companies offer landlord insurance that covers renting to people in receipt of benefits. In any event, mortgage and insurance terms that place restrictions on renting to people in receipt of benefits are likely to be unenforceable as they may also be indirect discrimination under the Equality Act 2010.
The fact that “no DSS” discrimination is unfortunately still widespread is not a legal defence. If you experience “no DSS” discrimination you can complain directly to the relevant agent. Shelter have an excellent template letter you can use.
If necessary, you can escalate your complaint with the Property Ombudsman or the Property Redress Scheme depending on which scheme the agent belongs to. The agent must display the name of the scheme they belong to in their offices and on their website. You can also seek advice on taking legal action against the agent. Possible outcomes you can pursue through legal action include for the discrimination to stop if it is ongoing, changes to a policy or practice that will stop the problem happening again, an apology and compensation.
If you believe you have been the victim of discrimination, including “no DSS discrimination”, discriminatory harassment, or victimisation for speaking out about it, please contact our specialist housing discrimination solicitors who would be happy to assist you. Call now 0808 252 5231.