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Discrimination in housing - finding a home to rent

This advice applies to England

The Equality Act 2010 says private and social housing landlords mustn’t discriminate against you when you apply to rent a property.  

Read this page to find out more about unlawful discrimination when you want to rent a property

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 a private landlord, housing association or local authority 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 you be discriminated against when applying to rent a property?

Here are examples of situations where you may be able to take action under the Equality Act.

You’re prevented from renting a property

A landlord or letting agent mustn’t refuse to let you a property because of a protected characteristic. For example, if a letting agent refuses to let you a property because you’re a Muslim, it would be unlawful discrimination because of your religion or belief.

It’s also unlawful discrimination if a landlord tells or instructs a letting agent not to let their property to you because of your protected characteristic - for example, because you’re gay.

A local authority mustn’t discriminate against you in the way they allocate social housing. This means their housing allocation policies, as well as individual decisions, must follow the Equality Act. For example, if a housing officer refuses to allocate a property to you because of your ethnicity, this could be unlawful discrimination because of race. However, in some situations it’s not race discrimination if you’re refused social housing because your immigration status does not entitle you to social housing.

You find it difficult to use the choice based lettings system

Many local authorities use a choice based lettings system to allocate social housing. This is where available properties in your area are advertised on the internet and locally - for example, at your library or housing office. You then need to bid for the properties you’re interested in. The bidding is often done online, by phone or by text.  

If you’re disabled you may find it difficult to use the choice based lettings system and you may need extra help. The Equality Act says your local authority must make reasonable adjustments if you’re disadvantaged by something and you ask them to. If you ask your local authority to make reasonable adjustments and they fail to do so, you can take action under the Equality Act.

Examples of reasonable adjustments if you’re disabled may include:

  • allocating a member of staff who can assist you to place bids or place bids on your behalf
  • auto-bidding where bids are placed automatically on your behalf
  • notifying you of the outcome of your bids in an accessible way
  • sending you a list of available properties in an accessible format
  • taking extra time to explain the bidding system to you
  • giving you extra time to bid.

You’ve been refused social housing because of rent arrears or anti-social behaviour

Your local authority or housing association may have a policy which says you can’t get social housing if you’ve been involved in unacceptable behaviour. Unacceptable behaviour may include anti-social behaviour or if you’re in rent arrears. If you’re disabled it may be that the rent arrears or unacceptable behaviour are linked or connected to your disability.

If you’re refused social housing because of something connected to your disability, this could be discrimination arising from disability. The local authority should therefore consider whether your disability has contributed to your anti-social behaviour or rent arrears problem when deciding if you’re eligible for social housing.

If necessary they may need to make reasonable adjustments to make sure you’re not disadvantaged. Reasonable adjustments include changing a policy or the way they do things.

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. You can also take court action.

You should always check your housing status before taking action as there’s a risk your landlord might try and evict you.

Next steps

Other useful information

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)

  • You can find useful information about discrimination on the EHRC website.
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