A second county court has ruled that a landlord's “no DSS” lettings policy discriminated against disabled tenants. Sian Evans examines the case.
The county court sitting in Birmingham is now the second court to rule that a letting policy, rejecting tenancy applications on the basis that the applicant is in receipt of housing benefit, is unlawful and in breach of the Equality Act 2010.
County court decision
The action was brought by disabled father of four, Stephen Tyler, with the support of homeless charity Shelter. Shelter were previously successful in their county court case of July this year, when they represented a single mother of two, referred to by the pseudonym “Jane”. Jane’s case was the first to rule the “no DSS” policy as unlawful and the recent case of Tyler v Paul Carr appears to reaffirm the court’s position.
Tyler and his family lost their home in February 2018 after asking their landlord to make some disability adaptations. Tyler is reported to have used a wheelchair since December 2016 following a road traffic accident and was said to suffer with his mental health. The landlord subsequently served the family with a Section 21 ‘no fault’ eviction notice.
In their search for a new rental property, Tyler had asked to view a number of properties at Paul Carr Estate Agents, but was told, as per “company policy”, that they did not rent to people in receipt of housing benefits. Tyler was reported to have had a clean rental record and had always paid his rent on time.
Shelter’s statistics demonstrate that 45% of private renters who claim disability benefits also claim housing benefits. Proceedings were subsequently brought on the basis that the policy breached the Equality Act 2010 because it disproportionally affected disabled people, as they were more likely to need help paying rent.
Her Honour Judge Mary Stacey held that: “the defendant had unlawfully and indirectly discriminated against the claimant by imposing a PCP [Provision, Criteria or Practice] that those in receipt of housing benefit could not apply to those three properties”.
Although these cases do not set a legal precedent as they are county court cases, the rulings provide a strong indication that “no DSS” policies will be deemed discriminatory.
Despite the earlier ruling in July of this year, it was reported that landlord and letting agents continued to adopt the “no DSS” policy as standard. However, the recent case of Tyler v Paul Carr acts as a warning to landlords and letting agents who continue to adopt such policies that they could risk legal action.
Historically, mortgagors and insurers excluded tenants in receipt of benefits from landlord insurance policies or buy-to-let mortgages. However, in line with recent developments, many lenders and insurance companies have removed such restrictions from their policies, making it easier for landlords to accept tenants in receipt of benefits.
Nonetheless, there has been no response from the Government to calls for additional support, with requests including the implementation of benefits which cover rents entirely or the conversion of the loan system, covering the five week wait for Universal Credit, into grants.
It is important that landlords and letting agencies adapt to the developing law in this area, by amending their policies and advertising materials accordingly, as they risk paying out compensation and legal costs if their practice is deemed discriminatory.