Whilst County Court decisions are not binding, it is likely that this case will be relied upon in similar cases in future and should there be an appeal to the High Court, the appeal decision would be binding. The Claimant’s legal representation was arranged by charity Shelter who have supported a number of similar cases which have settled out of court.
The Claimant began to look for somewhere else to live and on 26 November 2018, she saw an advert for a two-bedroom property in York which the Defendant was advertising as being to let for £795 per month. The Claimant contacted the Defendant stating that she was interested in the property and had excellent references, payment history and worked part-time whilst receiving some Housing Benefit.
The Claimant’s request for a viewing was denied because the Defendant agency did not accept applications from prospective tenants on housing benefit and so they could not proceed. The Claimant queried why they did not accept tenants on housing benefit and was told that “Rather than it being on an ad hoc basis we have had a policy for many years not to accept housing benefit tenants”.
In her ruling, Judge Victoria Elizabeth Mark said that “rejecting tenancy applications because the applicant is in receipt of housing benefit was unlawfully indirectly discriminatory on the grounds of sex and disability, contrary to […] the Equality Act 2010”.
‘No DSS’, ‘no benefits’ and ‘no Universal Credit’ policies are widespread throughout the UK, and this case is not the first time a renter has been turned away due to being in receipt of housing benefit.
A 2020 YouGov survey found that 63% of private landlords either operate an outright ban on letting to tenants receiving housing benefit or say they prefer not to let to this group. This ruling means that letting agents and private landlords will have to stop doing this so that renters who receive housing benefit are no longer automatically barred from renting any privately rented properties. There is however nothing to stop landlords pricing such tenants out of the market and as such, this could lead to an increase in rentals in some areas including those undergoing ‘gentrification’.
The Court of Appeal has, sensibly, held that that cannot possibly be the case – “such a disparity of outcome does not seem to me to fit with the legislative scheme as a whole” (paragraph 42). They also noted that “all the other prescribed requirements are capable of being remedied” (paragraph 43) and therefore it followed that breaches of the Regulations related to the provision of gas safety certificates could also be remedied, and that once they had been (by late service of the documents) the section 21 could also be served.
This case will be welcomed by landlords and letting agents, even if the Court of Appeal missed an opportunity to finally clarify the entirety relevant legislation, as some issues remain unclear and some questions remain unanswered.
Of course, the best course of action for landlords and letting agents is to avoid getting into these messy situations in the first place by complying with all of their statutory requirements as and when they are required to do so.