01:10, July 14 112 0 theguardian.com

2020-07-14 01:10:06
'No DSS' ruled unlawful after mother rejected by lettings agency

A disabled single mother who became homeless after being refused the chance to move into a private rented property because she was on benefits has won a landmark court case that ruled she was unlawfully discriminated against.

The case was the first time a court has ruled that the so-called No DSS rule operated by many private landlords – thought to have prevented hundreds of thousands of people from renting homes over the years – breached equality laws.

The court heard that the mother-of-two – referred to in the ruling as Jane – was turned down for several properties by the letting agency because of its long-standing blanket policy of not renting to people in receipt of universal credit or other social security benefits.

In her ruling, Judge Victoria Elizabeth Mark said that “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”.

The ruling was welcomed by the housing charity Shelter as a “nail in the coffin” of the No DSS rule – an archaic reference to the former Department for Social Security – used by some landlords to describe the vetting of a class of tenants they regard as unsuitable.

Rose Arnall, the Shelter solicitor who fought the case, said: “It finally clarifies that discriminating against people in need of housing benefits is not just morally wrong, it is against the law.”

Although the ruling, made in a virtual hearing on 1 July, does not set a legal precedent, Shelter said it sent a warning to landlords and letting agents that they should end the practice. Five similar cases brought by the charity in recent years were settled out of court in Shelter’s favour.

Jane – who works part-time and is now living in a social home – told the court she was shocked when she was turned down by the letting agent because she had nine years of excellent references from previous landlords and had always paid her rent on time.

She said: “I felt very offended that after all those years, when I have prided myself on paying my rent, paying my bills, being a good tenant, it just meant nothing. When I realised we were going to be homeless because I couldn’t find anywhere, I felt sick to my stomach.”

Rebecca Hilsenrath, the chief executive of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which helped support the case, said: “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.”

Chris Norris, policy director for the National Residential Landlords Association, said: “No landlord should discriminate against tenants because they are in receipt of benefits. Every tenant’s circumstance is different and so they should be treated on a case-by-case basis based on their ability to sustain a tenancy.”

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