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‘No DSS’ Policies and Unlawful Discrimination against Women and Disabled People

Our People - David Still
18 March, 2021

Tenants in the private sector routinely face discrimination, simply because they have been forced to claim benefits to help them pay their rents. This has recently been found by the Courts to be discriminatory, against women and disabled people, and tenants have been awarded compensation. With the very high rents in London, private sector tenants are often compelled to claim Universal Credit or Housing Benefit to help them pay their rent. However, many landlords and letting agents operate policies saying that they will not let their properties to people claiming benefits. This has often been referred to as having a ‘No DSS’ policy (which refers to the Department of Social Security, the previous name of the Department for Work and Pensions). However, there have recently been several successful legal challenges to these discriminatory policies. The cases so far have been decided in the lower courts and each case depends on its’ own particular facts as to whether there has been discrimination.

Discrimination has been held to occur when landlords and letting agents reject an application from a potential tenant because they are claiming benefits, rather than considering their personal circumstances and whether they could afford the rent.  Sometimes the landlords have a fixed ‘No DSS’ policy. On other occasions, the applicant is simply rejected, when they make enquiries about a property, because they receive benefits. A number of cases have been successfully brought challenging the lawfulness of these ‘No DSS’ policies on the grounds that they are unlawfully indirectly discriminatory against women and disabled people, contrary to the Equality Act 2010. This is because women and disabled people are significantly more likely than men and non-disabled people to claim benefits. This means that ‘No DSS’ policies unlawfully put women and disabled people at a disadvantage compared to men and non-disabled people. The Courts in several recent cases have found that ‘No DSS’ policies therefore caused unlawful discrimination and awarded compensation. In those cases, the landlords have also apologised and amended their policies and practices. These cases are a significant step forward in ending this type of discrimination and making it easier for tenants to find somewhere to live.

Associate Solicitor
David Still is an associate solicitor advising on mental health law, community care, homelessness and social welfare law.

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