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Discrimination in housing - eviction because of rent arrears

This advice applies to England

The Equality Act 2010 says a landlord mustn’t discriminate against you if they want to evict you because of rent arrears. In particular, if you’re disabled your landlord must take steps to make sure you’re not disadvantaged because of your disability.

Read this page to find out more about unlawful discrimination if you’re in rent arrears.

Have you suffered unlawful discrimination?

The law which says you mustn’t be discriminated against is called the Equality Act 2010. Discrimination which is against the Equality Act is unlawful. This means you can take action in the civil courts.

If you think you’ve been discriminated against by your landlord and you want to take action about it, you should check whether the discrimination is unlawful.

Why are you treated unfairly?

It’s only discrimination in housing if you’re treated unfairly because of:

  • disability
  • gender reassignment
  • marriage and civil partnership
  • pregnancy and maternity
  • race
  • religion or belief
  • sex
  • sexual orientation.

The Equality Act calls these things protected characteristics.

How might your landlord discriminate against you if you’re in rent arrears?

You’re disabled and your landlord hasn’t followed the proper eviction procedure

If you’re a social housing tenant and your landlord wants to evict you because of rent arrears, they must follow a specific procedure before taking court action. The procedure is set out in a document called the rent arrears pre-action protocol.  

The pre-action protocol says all the information your landlord gives you about your rent arrears must be in a comprehensible format. They must also take reasonable steps to ensure you understand the information you’ve been given. If your landlord hasn’t done this, then they haven’t followed the protocol.

In addition, they may also be in breach of their duty to make reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act. The Act says your landlord must make reasonable adjustments if you’re disabled and you ask them to. For example, they may be required to take extra time to explain things to you or send you notices or rent statements in an accessible format.  

You’re disadvantaged because of something connected to your disability  

If you’re disabled, your landlord should consider whether your disability has contributed to your rent arrears problem. If your landlord knows you’re disabled but hasn’t taken your disability into account when dealing with your rent arrears and this means you’ve suffered a disadvantage - for example, if you’re being evicted, it could be discrimination arising from disability.

Discrimination arising from disability is where you’re discriminated against because of something connected to your disability rather than the disability itself. For example, it may be that you find it difficult to read or understand certain things because of your disability . Of you it may be that you have problems managing your money properly.

Your landlord may be able to justify discriminating against you if they can show a good enough reason for treating you unfavourably. It’s more difficult for a landlord to justify discrimination if they haven’t complied with their duty to make reasonable adjustments.

Your landlord is evicting you because of a protected characteristic

If you’re in rent arrears, your landlord generally has the right to start possession proceedings. However, the Equality Act says they mustn’t discriminate against you when taking steps to evict you. This means that if the actual reason your landlord wants to evict you is because of your protected characteristic, it could be unlawful discrimination.

If you are a social housing tenant, this may provide a defence to possession action. If you're a private tenant you are unlikely to prevent possession action if your landlord has followed the correct procedure, because a private landlord can seek possession without giving a reason at all. You may however be able to bring a claim against a private landlord for compensation if there's evidence that they have discriminated against you because of your protected characteristic.

Taking action

If your landlord has discriminated against you, you can take action under the Equality Act.

For example, you may be able to resolve the problem by talking informally to your landlord or you can make a formal complaint. If court proceedings have started you can raise the discrimination issue with the judge. If a possession order has been made against you, it may be possible to have the order set aside because of unlawful discrimination.

If you’re facing eviction you should get advice from an experienced adviser, for example at a Citizens Advice Bureau.

Other things you can do if you’ve been discriminated against

Public sector equality duty

Local authorities and in some situations housing associations, must make sure they consider how their policies and practices affect people who are protected under the Equality Act. This is called the public sector equality duty.

If you think a policy or practice discriminates against you, you can use the equality duty to strengthen your discrimination case. You can also make a separate complaint or court claim saying the local authority or housing association has failed to consider their equality duty.  

Social landlord’s own policies and procedures

Social landlords like local authorities and housing associations, have to follow their own policies and procedures. This includes policies on rent arrears and equality and diversity. If you’ve been discriminated against you can use these documents to make a complaint.

Next steps

Other useful information

  • You can see the pre-action protocol for possession claims based on rent arrears at www.justice.gov.uk  

Equality Advisory Support Service (EASS)

If you have experienced discrimination, you can get help from the EASS discrimination helpline.

Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC)

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