Stephen Tyler was unlawfully discriminated against when refused chance to rent, court rules
A homeless father of four with disabilities who was refused the chance to rent a private flat because he fell foul of the estate agents’ “no DSS” rules was unlawfully discriminated against, a court has ruled.
Stephen Tyler, 29, who was backed by the housing charity Shelter, proved that a Birmingham estate agents that refused to allow him and his family to view a string of rental properties because he was on benefits was in breach of equality laws.
The case at Birmingham county court is the second “no DSS” discrimination case successfully brought by Shelter in recent months, and while the victories do not set a legal precedent, the charity believes they send a clear message to landlords that the practice is unlawful.
“No DSS” is used as shorthand by landlords to describe the practice of refusing to rent a property to benefit recipients. DSS is an archaic reference to the former Department of Social Security, now known as the Department for Work and Pensions.
In her ruling in the Tyler case, the judge, Mary Stacey, said: “There is no doubt that there was a blanket policy that no one in receipt of housing benefit would be considered for the three properties. It put the claimant and other disabled people at a particular disadvantage when compared to others.
“To be told simply, because of his benefit status, that he could not apply for three properties which were perfectly located for his children’s school, his GP and health needs, and extended family support … would be distressing.”
She added: “We make a declaration that the defendant has unlawfully indirectly discriminated against the claimant by imposing a PCP [provision, criteria or practice] that those in receipt of housing benefit could not apply to those three properties.”
Tyler, who uses a wheelchair after a road traffic collision in 2016, was made homeless along with his family in 2018 after they asked their landlord to make some disability adaptations and were evicted.
While subsequently searching for a new property to rent, Tyler was told by Paul Carr Estate Agents that it was “company policy” to refuse to let to people in receipt of housing benefit. Tyler had a clean rental record and had always paid his rent on time.
The court found the estate agent’s policy breached the equality act because it disproportionately affected people with disabilities, who were more likely to need support paying their rent. Shelter estimates that 45% of private renters who claim disability benefits such as disability living allowance also claim housing benefit.
Tyler said: “I feel relieved that it’s over. It’s been a very stressful time. It is amazing to have won – not just for me but for the tens of thousands of people like me facing this discrimination. Hopefully now it’s clear that the law is on our side, things will change.”
Polly Neate, Shelter’s chief executive, said: “This win proves yet again that blanket bans against people on housing benefit are unlawful because they overwhelmingly bar women and disabled people like Stephen, who are more likely to need help with their rent, from finding a safe home.”
In July a disabled mother of two, known as Jane, won a landmark court case after she was turned down for several properties by a letting agent who operated a blanket ban on letting to people on benefits.
Shelter, which is involved in a series of ongoing litigations against landlords and letting agents in “no DSS” cases, has published a template letter to be used by prospective tenants who are turned down because they are on benefits.
A spokesperson for Paul Carr Estate Agents said it was disappointed at the outcome of the case, which it claimed was based on a “simple and isolated administrative error”.
They added: “We are merely the victims of Shelter’s desire to drive their own political agenda against letting agents in the private rental sector. As a leading and reputable letting agent we always adhere to the law and protect our landlord clients to the best of our ability, in what is an ever increasing arena of negative legislation.
“We had already changed our policy regarding the advertising of ‘no DSS’ many months prior to this incident, as we believed it was the right way forward for all concerned.”