A county court judge in York has determined that "…rejecting tenancy applications because the applicant is in receipt of housing benefit was unlawfully discriminating on the grounds of sex and disability" in a case brought by Shelter on 1 July 2020.

In this case, a single disabled mother of two sought to challenge a letting agent, who had rejected her request to view a private two-bedroom property, on the basis of a policy in operation for “many years not to accept housing benefit tenants”. District Judge Mark determined that the letting agent had breached provisions of the Equality Act by using a blanket ban policy which indirectly discriminated, and had a greater impact on women and persons with a disability. The court confirmed that the defendant in the case ended this policy in June 2019.

This appears to be the first case to be determined on the point. While as a matter of law, the county court judgment will not provide a binding precedent for future cases, it does signify the direction of travel.

Landlords and letting agents may wish to review their policies following this decision and avoid blanket policies which could have the inadvertent consequence of breaching the Equality Act. It will be necessary to consider applications to view properties and to rent properties on a case by case basis.

It is not clear what impact this case will have on future cases where the landlord or letting agent raises a defence that the action is "a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim" under s.19(2)(d) of the Equality Act 2010. In this case, both parties accepted that the defendant was unable to prove their policy was a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.  It therefore remains to be seen exactly how and in what circumstances a landlord or letting agent may satisfy the proportionality defence. The decision does not address the position of the lender which seeks to include a blanket mortgage condition preventing the landlord from renting to a DSS tenant as that was not relevant on the particular facts of this case.