Taking action against a public authority about discrimination in housing
If you’ve been discriminated against when renting or buying a property - for example, by a landlord or estate agent, you can take action under the Equality Act 2010. You can make a complaint or a discrimination claim in the civil courts.
If you’ve been discriminated against by an organisation that's a public authority there are also other things you can do.
Read this page to find out more about other actions you can take if you’ve been treated unfairly by a public authority.
What’s a public authority?
A public authority is an organisation which provides public functions or services. This can be a public sector organisation, like a local authority or central government department.
Private organisations or charities which carry out public functions are also called public authorities. A housing association can be a public authority when carrying out some of its functions as a social landlord.
So if your landlord is a housing association or local authority you may have more remedies if you’ve been discriminated against or treated unfairly.
The equality duty
The public sector equality duty can be used to challenge policies by public authorities which you think are discriminating against you. If the challenge succeeds, the policy might be changed for everyone in the same situation as you.
Public authorities have a duty to have regard to, or think about the need to:
- eliminate unlawful discrimination
- advance equality of opportunity
- foster or encourage good relations between people from different groups.
This means they must think about how their policies affect people who are protected against discrimination under the Equality Act. They must do this before they adopt the policy.
You're under 65 and you're disabled. You've been refused a bungalow by your local authority. The reason for the refusal is that the council has a policy of only providing bungalows to people who are aged 65 and over. You could challenge the council's policy saying it's a breach of their equality duty as they've not considered how their policy affects disabled people who are under 65.
You can use the equality duty to strengthen a discrimination complaint or court action against a local authority or housing association by saying they’ve not considered their equality duty properly. You can also make a separate complaint or court claim saying they’ve breached their equality duty.
If you want to make a separate claim in the courts against a public authority, you need to use a special procedure called judicial review - see more about this below.
Using human rights law
Public authorities must follow the Human Rights Act 1998. This means everyone who works for a public authority must respect your human rights in everything they do.
You can use human rights law to make your discrimination case stronger. If you think a public authority has breached or not respected your human rights, you can say this in your discrimination complaint or court action.
You can also make a separate human rights claim or complaint. If you want to make a separate human rights claim against a public authority, you will usually have to make an application for judicial review.
What rights are relevant to housing?
Article 8 protects your right to respect for your private and family life and your home. It doesn’t mean you have a right to housing but it protects the home you already have. It means - for example, that your housing association or local authority mustn’t normally enter your home without permission or stop you from entering or living in your home without a very good reason.
You may also be able to use article 8 as a defence if the housing association or local authority takes steps to evict you.
Public law action
If you’ve been treated unfairly, but it’s not unlawful discrimination under the Equality Act, you may still be able to take action. If your human rights have been breached you can make a human rights claim.
In other situations, you may be able to take action by using public law principles. Public authorities must act within the powers they have under the law. If a local authority or housing association has acted outside of these powers when making a decision which affects you, you can challenge the decision using public law principles.
If you want to make a public law claim, you need to make an application for judicial review.
What’s judicial review?
Judicial review is a special procedure you can use to challenge decisions made by public authorities.
Judicial review applications must be made in the High Court.
Judicial review can only be used where there are no other ways of challenging a decision.
What are the time limits?
There are very strict time limits for making the application. The application must be made as soon as possible and in any case within three months of the act you're complaining about.
Who can make a judicial review application?
You can only make a judicial review application if you have sufficient interest in the decision you want to complain about. This generally means you need to be personally affected by the decision.
If you’re thinking about taking court action, you should get advice from an experienced adviser - for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau.
- Taking action about discrimination in housing
- Before you take action about discrimination
- What are human rights?
- What's the public sector equality duty?
Other useful information
For more information on judicial review applications see the Public Law project website at
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.