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What Is No DSS And Can A Landlord Refuse Me Housing If I Receive Benefits?

What is no DSS?

‘No DSS’ is a policy that you may have seen on housing advertisements if you have been looking for a property. If you see ‘no DSS’, it likely means that a Landlord won’t accept you for the property if you receive benefits.

The term ‘DSS’ is generally a catch-all for general benefits, including housing benefit, Universal Credit, disability benefits etc. It refers to the ‘Department for Social Security’ which now no longer exists but used to be responsible for payment of benefits. The term however is still used in the housing market. It can also include policies that might require applicants to work for a certain amount of hours per week as well, or to be ‘working professionals’.

With many tenants forced to look for privately rented accommodation given the housing shortage crisis, this practice has a severe impact on people who are in receipt of benefits and in need of housing.

Is no DSS allowed?

A ‘no DSS’ policy can be discriminatory, particularly if you can afford a property but despite this the Landlord or agent still implements it based on the fact that you receive benefits. It’s appalling that so many Landlords continue to employ this method especially as it has minimal impact on them.

There have been calls for an end to ‘no DSS’ policies – back in 2019 from the housing minister at the time and through campaigns by Shelter. A Government White Paper published in June 2022 even planned to “take steps towards outlawing ‘no DSS’ policies.” Despite this, the practice remains widespread and entrenched in the private sector.

DSS policies have been found to be indirectly discriminatory by the Courts under the Equality Act 2010. This is because a policy, criterion or practice that would negatively impact one group more harshly than others (even if the policy applies to everyone) is indirectly discriminatory. For example, if you receive benefits because you are disabled and therefore unable to work, it will likely be indirect discrimination not to consider you for a property based on the fact that you receive benefits.

There are few cases challenging ‘no DSS’ which have gone to Court. In 2016, there was a case where the Claimant argued there was indirect discrimination as ‘no DSS’ was considered to disproportionately affect women as women were more likely to work part time and therefore make use of housing benefit. The case settled out of court for £2,000 so did not go to trial. Landlords therefore need to be careful when applying any blanket policies.

In July 2020, the Courts took the first step to recognising that ‘no DSS’ policies were discriminatory in a judgment at York County Court. This found that the ‘no DSS’ policy blocking tenancy applicants who received housing benefits was unlawful as it was indirectly discriminatory on the grounds of sex and disability under the Equality Act. A second ‘no DSS’ case in Birmingham County Court later the same year found another breach of human rights. It is worth pointing out however that these judgments aren’t binding on other courts – but it does show that the Courts are prepared to consider ‘no DSS’ policies discriminatory.

This month, Hodge Jones & Allen and Alice Irving of Doughty Street Chambers successfully represented a client where judgment was found in our favour in regard to the claim for discrimination. Our client was refused to be considered for housing as there was a requirement that applicants work for a minimum of 16 hours per week, which negatively impacted our client who is disabled and unable to work. We are awaiting a final hearing to determine the amount of damages owed by the housing association.

Despite the Court’s findings, Landlords, including housing associations, continue practices of refusing tenants properties on the basis that they receive benefits. Some Landlords might try to rely on the fact that their requirement of no benefits could be a ‘proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim’.

What can I do about it?

The answer is, it depends. If you have seen ‘no DSS’ on a housing board advertised by a letting agent or by a housing association, you have been refused a viewing or haven’t been considered for a property because of your benefits status, you can write to them and make a complaint. Shelter has a template which you can use to do so here. This may not result in your being considered for a property but it can alert the agent to the potential discrimination. It is unlikely that you can challenge a private Landlord for a discrimination claim under the Equality Act.

If you continue to face discrimination and your complaint is not resolved, you may wish to seek legal advice as to whether you have a claim.

We have assisted clients who have faced discrimination as a result of no DSS policies. If you believe you have been discriminated against unfairly, please get in touch with our housing team.

We have assisted clients who have faced discrimination as a result of no DSS policies. If you believe you have been discriminated against unfairly, please get in touch expert housing law solictors now on 0330 822 3451 or request a call back.

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