Thankfully times have changed since signs advertising properties or rooms to let openly excluded people because of their race or the colour of their skin. Discrimination still happens in the UK of course, in spite of the fact that the Equality Act 2010 (which brought together various anti-discrimination legislation under one piece of legislation) has been in force for several years.
You might think that defining what is discrimination is straightforward. Life’s not like that Suppose‘ A’ is a landlord and refuses to let a room or property to ‘B’ because B is disabled for example. That is direct discrimination under the Act and is illegal
How does the law protect B against A claiming that his or her reason for not letting the property to B was something else and not because B is disabled? Well, the Equality Act also prohibits indirect discrimination. So, if A operates a ‘No DSS’ policy for example the Act applies two tests to establish whether A is guilty of indirect discrimination. (‘No DSS’ is the term commonly used if people receiving welfare benefits are not considered as suitable tenants). The two tests are:
– A cannot place B at a particular disadvantage by refusing to let the property to him or her because of a No DSS rule
– The reason A is following a No DSS policy is that it is a ‘proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim’
Taking these tests in reverse order, the reason landlords refuse to rent to people on benefits (and an increasing number do) would seem to be because they believe they are more ;likely to get into rent arrears. This would seem to be a ‘legitimate aim’ because it is surely reasonable for a landlord to expect to receive the rent on time (provided the property is in good order of course). Is there evidence that shows people on benefits are less likely to pay their rent?
If there is it is difficult to find. However, people on benefits are by definition in low income groups and with the ever-present pressure to cut benefits it might be argued that this group is a higher risk for a landlord as a result for this reason alone.
What about the first test?. B cannot be placed at a ‘particular disadvantage’ as a result of No DSS. If B has no choice other than to claim benefits as a consequence of being disabled he or she has no other means of support. Surely, B must then be at a particular disadvantage. So, how many disabled people claim benefits?
According to the latest figures available from the Department of Work and Pensions there are almost 5,000 people in Waverley claiming Employment and Support Allowance, Disability Living Allowance and Incapacity Benefit or Severe Disabled Allowance which is around 4% of the total population of the Borough. In other words, they cannot survive other than on Benefits,
The 2011 census found that there were about 16,800 people whose daily lives were affected by being disabled or having a long term medical condition. So almost 30% of disabled people in Waverley claim benefits which is surely a large enough proportion to say that not allowing people on benefits to become tenants is discrimination against disabled people.
Citizens Advice Waverley is keen to work with Waverley Borough Council and private landlords to implement measures like offering Financial Capability Training to people on benefits who want to rent privately which would help deal with landlord’s concerns.
If you encounter No DSS or any other instance of discrimination don’t just disapprove, shout loud enough for people to hear – you never know who might be listening