Prejudice in practice: renting with a disability

Prejudice in practice: renting with a disability

This blog was co-written by Dave Lockyer, a Shelter Renting Champion who shares his experience of discrimination in the private rented sector.

Discrimination has no home in the private rented sector. In the prejudice in practice series, we’ll shine a light on the various forms discrimination takes, the mechanisms that allow it to persist, and the tangible solutions that can stop it in its tracks.

The private rented sector is a deeply inequitable place. With extortionate rents still climbing, the constant, gnawing threat of unfair eviction and the worst housing conditions of any tenure type, the 11 million people in England who rent privately are paying an astonishingly high price for an extraordinarily unjust deal.

The situation is even worse for certain groups of tenants who can’t even get a foot in the door. Dave describes how he has had to contend with two ‘no fault’ evictions in four years, and repeatedly faced down discrimination in his search for a home.

Read on to hear Dave’s story in his own words. And if you feel as outraged as we do, you can join our campaign to put an end to discrimination in the private rented sector.

Renting with a disability

My name is Dave and I am 52. I entered the private rental sector in 2009 after a marriage breakdown, not through choice, but because I had no other options. At present I live with my son who attends the local college.

Dave is part of a much bigger picture. The private rented sector is increasingly becoming the only option for many. People living with a disability are less likely to own their own home, and their numbers in social housing are decreasing. But the number of disabled people living in the private rented sector is climbing. The sector is also aging, with households in the 45 to 54 years age group seeing an 11% increase between 2007 and 2017.

Disability and benefits

In 2015 I had a minor accident which has led to chronic, constant pain in my lower back, and joint pain in my hips and knees. I have a limited capability for work and receive benefits. Since 2015, I have looked for work but have been unsuccessful. I study part-time for a science degree and I volunteer.

There is a strong intersection between tenants with disability and those who claim benefits. When landlords harbour a bias against tenants in receipt of benefits, this has a disproportionate impact on those living with a disability, which amounts to unlawful discrimination under the Equality Act.

Section 21 evictions and homelessness

In August 2018 I received a section 21 [‘no fault’ eviction] notice from my landlord which made me homeless for approximately two months. In January 2019 the local council found me a one-bed house that fell within the local housing allowance. In June 2022 I received another section 21 notice. To be clear, there was never any issue with rent arrears or anti-social behaviour.

Section 21 evictions are increasing, according to the latest statutory homelessness statistics. In just one year, an estimated 58,000 people faced homelessness because of section 21. That’s an astonishing 165 people every day. The real numbers are likely to be much higher. 

Finding a new home

Between June 2022 and January 2023, I was looking for alternative accommodation. My teenage son lives with me and attends the local college. I do not own a car, so we needed to be near a regular public transport route.

A third of private renters say that the last time they moved, it took them longer than two months (the notice given with a section 21) to find a home1. Renters living with a disability may need longer and are 50% more likely to need six months or more2.

Unlawful discrimination

I checked for properties every day. As soon as I filtered the results to show what was within the LHA [Local Housing Allowance], there were none. The only options were non-local. After a few months, a suitable property came up. I sent the landlord a message explaining my situation and received a reply saying, ‘I don’t take anyone on benefits’. I pointed out this was unlawful discrimination, but he just laughed at me.

Dave is correct – this is unlawful discrimination. The use of blanket rules that discriminate against particular groups is unlawful under the Equalities Act, but despite several successful court cases, landlords and letting agents still appear to be comfortable flouting the rules.

Rent in advance

He said if I could pay the full year’s rent upfront, he would consider it. Yes, I thought, I’ll just go and pluck that £15,000 off my money tree. If I had that lying around, I probably wouldn’t be renting. The reality is he knew I wouldn’t have access to that kind of money because I’m on benefits.

Asking for extortionate levels of rent upfront blocks people from renting a home and disadvantages some tenants more than others. Renters with a disability are 50% more likely than those without to have been unable to rent a home in the last five years because they could not afford the rent in advance3.


The second benefits is mentioned, all interest is lost. ‘The landlord would prefer a professional couple’ just means ‘we don’t take anyone on benefits’. I was constantly asked for a guarantor, or for 6+ months’ rent in advance, or both. All of these demands equate to ‘we don’t want people on benefits so we will price them out or put other barriers in the way’. To be clear, this attitude was the norm, not the exception.

Guarantors pose another insurmountable barrier to renters in their search for a home, and renters with a disability are, again, disproportionately impacted. Disabled renters are 35% more likely to be asked for a guarantor, and more than 125,000 people with a disability have been prevented from renting a home in the last five years because they could not find one4.

Affordability checks

I was constantly asked personal and intrusive questions about my disability, my income and what I did for work. The local council’s detailed affordability check was not enough. What business is it of landlords or agents if the rent is affordable? People like me are constantly having to justify themselves, their income or their disability.

Some tenant referencing company practices are automatically and unfairly excluding tenants who could otherwise afford the rent. Some do not acknowledge benefits as a legitimate income source, or impose affordability thresholds which exclude benefits recipients.

Extra assurances

Not a single landlord or letting agent said they would accept a council bond of £2,500 for a deposit of approximately £1,500, rendering council bonds utterly useless. In reality, a council bond is just a sign saying, ‘I’m on benefits’ and then the usual barriers are put in place.

52% of landlords either do not or prefer not to let to tenants in receipt of benefits. Of these, 12% said that they only would if they are given ‘extra assurances’, normally in the form of rent in advance or a guarantor5. Dave’s experience demonstrates that, even with a generous council bond as collateral, landlords are not always easily persuaded to let their properties.

Mental health impacts

I never had a single call from any letting agent. As far as they are concerned, I am still looking.

Eventually, I got lucky when a landlord essentially took pity on me. We moved into a new property on our eviction date, so it could not have been cut any finer. I had to borrow £2,500 for the deposit and a month’s rent in advance. Now I am in debt, and struggling to it pay back. All because of an eviction that was no fault of our own.

Being told you are not worthy of accommodation every day does funny things to one’s mental health. It is not an exaggeration to say that I went to some very dark places in those six months. It was one of the most stressful, upsetting and humiliating periods of my life. That feeling of unworthiness extends to every corner.

Housing insecurity is having a huge impact on the mental health of renters up and down the country:

  • 35% of renters say that worrying about being evicted has negatively affected their mental or physical health
  • 54% of renters say housing problems or worries have made them feel stressed and anxious in the last year6

The Renters Reform Bill

A blanket ban on adverts saying ‘No benefits / No DSS’ will change nothing in my view, as landlords and agents can continue making unreasonable demands for guarantors, multiple months’ rent in advance and refuse council bonds. It is my very strong view that government needs to change not just the laws, but the whole culture and attitudes of the private rented sector.

The Renters Reform Bill will make it directly illegal to discriminate against families with children and benefits recipients. This is good first step, but further measures are needed to address the invisible barriers that Dave describes.

We are calling on the government to strengthen the bill by:

  • limiting requests for rent in advance to one month, and
  • restricting the circumstances in which a landlord or agent can legitimately ask a tenant to appoint a guarantor

Renters like Dave need a strong bill, free of loopholes for landlords to exploit, if discrimination in the private rented sector is to be eradicated.

The government are running out of time to deliver a bill that genuinely improves renters’ rights, truly tackles discrimination and gives renters like Dave a fair chance of finding a home. Read our playbook for more information about what amendments must be made.

Shelter’s YouGov surveys were funded by The Co-operative Bank, which is campaigning with Shelter for the transformation of private renting for good, and the delivery of a robust Renters Reform Bill.

  1. YouGov survey for Shelter of 4,023 private renting adults (18+) in England. The survey was conducted online between 14 July – 16 August 2023, and the results were weighted to be representative of private renters. The survey was funded by The Co-operative Bank. ↩︎
  2. YouGov survey for Shelter – Private Renters ↩︎
  3. YouGov survey for Shelter, private renting adults ↩︎
  4. Ibid. ↩︎
  5. YouGov survey of 1,007 private landlords in England. The survey was conducted between 14 – 26 July 2023. The survey was funded by The Co-operative Bank. ↩︎
  6. YouGov survey for Shelter, private renting adults ↩︎