The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is #EachforEqual. It’s about challenging stereotypes, fighting bias, and broadening perceptions. To mark the occasion, we’d like you to meet three women who are doing just that: they’re taking on DSS discrimination in the courts – and they’re winning.
Amanda, Rosie, and Philippa each receive housing benefit to top up their income in order to pay the cost of their rent. They have also all experienced DSS discrimination when looking for a home in the private rented sector – all being stopped from renting homes they could afford just because they receive housing benefit.
These ‘No DSS’ policies can potentially affect every renter who receives housing benefit, but as women and people with disabilities are more likely to receive housing benefit, they are being disproportionately affected by such blanket bans.
When Amanda, Rosie, and Philippa first complained to their letting agents about their refusal to let to them, the agents refused to budge. But these women didn’t back down. Shelter took on their legal cases against each of their letting agents and they all won out-of-court settlements on the grounds of indirect discrimination.
As a single mum who works part time as a self-employed cleaner, Rosie is also entitled to some tax credits and state benefits to top up her earnings so that she can sustain herself and her young son. She and her son lived together in a privately rented home in Birmingham for 11 years, with Rosie paying their rent in full and on time every single month. But unfortunately their accommodation suffered from recurring damp and mould, so Rosie started looking for more suitable privately rented accommodation.
She attended a viewing of a property available to rent through a letting agent. She was initially invited by the agent to complete an application for the tenancy, but when she confirmed that she would be meeting some of the costs of the rent using her housing benefit, the agent told her that they would not be proceeding with her application.
Rosie complained in writing to the agent saying that a practice of refusing to let to housing benefit claimants amounted to indirect discrimination against women. However, the letting agent initially refuted this, stating that a landlord’s insurance and/or mortgage will often impose restrictions on their ability to grant tenancies to people who are in receipt of housing benefit, but provided no specific evidence of that in this case.
Rosie issued a claim for indirect sex discrimination in the county court. When we heard about her case on BBC Radio 4 and reached out, Rosie told us that she’d been searching for legal support for her case some time. We stepped in and offered to support Rosie with her case.
In August 2017, Rosie’s case settled with the letting agent admitting unlawful indirect discrimination on basis of sex (under Part 4 section 33 (1) of the Equality Act 2010) and agreeing to pay Rosie £2,000 compensation.
Philippa has a disability that sometimes leaves her seriously ill and hospitalised for periods of time. This means that she’s unable to take up steady employment, but she volunteers at her local CAB and for the NHS whenever she is well enough to do so.
As a renter, she receives housing benefit and over the past five years, has always paid her rent in full and on time. To make sure she can always do this, Philippa has also saved up an emergency fund, plus has a financial guarantor, a landlord reference, and photographs of her previous home in good condition when she left it.
In 2018, she was looking to move and began searching online for an affordable place to rent. Despite finding numerous properties within her budget, it was made painfully clear by ‘No DSS’ notices that she would not be considered solely because she depends upon housing benefit.
After being rejected five times in as many months, Philippa contacted us to see about taking her cases to court. We helped her to write formal letters to five letting agents asking that they stop discriminating against people on housing benefit and start treating people fairly on a case-by-case basis. All five agencies agreed.
Following a divorce from her husband, Amanda is now a single mum and has been left to care for their three young boys alone. Having had to sell the family home, her family helped her get back on her feet and she and her boys moved into a rented home in a nice village near Cambridge where Amanda found a part-time job at her sons’ school.
But after receiving a section 21 notice form the landlord who had decided to sell the property, Amanda had to find somewhere new. She saw a home for rent nearby that would allow her to keep her job and allow the boys to stay settled in the same school. With significant savings, two years good rental history, a home owning guarantor, and the ability to pay six months rent in advance, she felt like she had a good chance.
Yet she was refused the property by the agents. Their excuse? The landlord’s rent guarantee insurance apparently wouldn’t cover tenants who receive housing benefit.
Amanda sent a written complaint of indirect sex discrimination to them citing Rosie’s case. But when they wouldn’t do anything about it, we stepped in and took on her case. When the agents disclosed all their documents to us, it revealed that the rent guarantee insurance did not prohibit the landlord from renting to someone in receipt of benefits. The agent ultimately agreed to write a public letter of apology and to pay £3,000 compensation and the £10,000 legal costs.
At Shelter we’ve been so proud to stand alongside Rosie, Philippa, and Amanda as they’ve challenged the discrimination they’ve faced first-hand.
But thousands of tenants continue to experience DSS discrimination. We must put an end to it for good to make sure that everyone can access the housing they need.
Right now, OpenRent is one of the largest online letting agents in the UK – and it’s also one of the worst offenders of DSS discrimination. By allowing ‘No DSS’ adverts, OpenRent continues to lock thousands of tenants out of renting homes they could otherwise afford – simply because they receive housing benefit.
Alongside tenants who’ve experienced this discrimination first-hand, we’re calling on OpenRent to end DSS discrimination on their website. Will you join us in telling OpenRent that we all deserve access to safe, affordable homes? Please read, sign, and share our open letter.