Last week the government dropped the much-anticipated White Paper on private renting, finally unveiling the contents of the Renters’ Reform Bill and its plans for the private renting sector.
It’s been three years since the government first promised a Renters’ Reform Bill that would guarantee England’s 11 million private renters the security and rights they deserve. For the thousands of supporters that have been campaigning with Shelter to make good on this promise, the White Paper signals the light at the end of a long tunnel.
There’s a lot to celebrate. Not just for renters demanding improved conditions and security, but for our supporters who have stood up against income discrimination – a widespread practice that locks hundreds of thousands out of homes they can afford.
With the strength of our supporters, we’ve refused to accept excuses for blanket bans against people who receive benefits. We’ve simply asked that landlords and letting agents treat people who receive benefits fairly and like any other applicant.
Finally, we can feel vindicated knowing that government acknowledges that these policies are unfair, damaging and undoubtably illegal. That’s why we’re thrilled that the White Paper includes a commitment to make it illegal for landlords or agents to have blanket bans on renting to people who receive benefits, as well as families with children.
Why does this matter?
Our landmark court wins already proved that blanket bans against people who receive housing benefits are unlawful indirect discrimination under the Equality Act 2010. This means that people with certain protected characteristics – such as women and people with disabilities, who are more likely to claim housing benefits – are disproportionately disadvantaged by these policies and practices.
These rulings were a major and important step, but they didn’t go far enough.
As it stands, renters facing income discrimination can now only challenge it legally if they have a protected characteristic that is disproportionately affected by blanket bans. They must also show how they are individually impacted. Beyond shouldering the burden of proof, renters also face barriers to obtaining legal aid.
Facing discrimination when all you want is a decent home is draining enough. Add to that the lengthy, distressing and sometimes traumatic experience of going to court, it’s no wonder people can’t face taking legal action.
A game changer
The government’s latest proposal to make benefits discrimination directly and specifically illegal completely changes the game. This will be the first ever direct prohibition on discriminating against people due to their financial status and will make blanket bans unlawful outright.
It’ll mean that tenants will no longer have to jump through the legal, evidentiary and practical hoops they’ve needed so far to prove income discrimination. It’ll mean they could access justice far more readily and regardless of their identity. And it’ll mean they can stand up for themselves knowing that now landlords and letting agents have no way of justifying blanket bans against renting to people who receive benefits.
We previously heard from agents and large online businesses who told us that they wouldn’t change their practice until the law clarifies that blanketly refusing to rent to people who receive benefits is directly discriminatory. It looks like their time will soon be up.
There’s more to come
We’re also pleased that the White Paper sets out other proposals that will pave the way to ending income discrimination once and for all.
Once again, the government has committed to professionalising lettings and property agents. To achieve this goal, we want to see a legally enforceable code of practice brought forward. One that outlines letting agents’ duty not to discriminate against people based on their economic situation and type of income.
We’re also glad to see promises of more funding and resources for local authorities to enforce. Local authorities have tools that they can use to crack down on landlords and letting agents who flout the law on income discrimination. We want councils to use these tools to stamp out discrimination in their area and to have enough funding to do so.
The government has set its intentions; now it’s time to deliver. They must bring forward legislation as soon as possible and finally make income discrimination a thing of the past.
Sign our petition to join us in ending income discrimination.