Taking legal action for housing discrimination
You should try to resolve your problem informally before you take legal action - it might be the best way to get a solution. You’ll need to get all the facts together first.
If you’re being evicted because you’ve been discriminated against, you can challenge the eviction with discrimination law.
It’s stressful and expensive to take legal action.
Get legal help
You should try to find a legal adviser who’ll help with your own specific situation. They can help to explain the court processes, prepare your case and represent you.
Your local Citizens Advice might be able to help you to find someone.
Check if you can get free legal aid - this covers free legal advice and sometimes legal representation. It can sometimes also cover your court costs too.
You can also find more affordable legal help.
You might be able to get the court fees reduced or you might not have to pay any if:
you’re on a low income or you get benefits and
you have little or no savings
If you can’t find a legal adviser, you’re allowed to represent yourself. These pages will show you the main steps, including the most common court rules you need to follow.
Check the deadline for taking action
You can start legal action if you were discriminated against in the last 6 months or are still being discriminated against.
The court needs to receive your claim form 6 months less one day after the discrimination happened.
The date you were discriminated against could be when someone:
made a decision - for example the date your landlord refused your request to make a reasonable adjustment
discriminated against you by refusing to rent a property to you
If you have more than one claim, you might have different deadlines for each one. Check all the dates you were discriminated against and work out the deadlines for each claim.
If the discrimination happened more than once
You’ll need to work out whether the different incidents could be classed as ‘continuing over a period of time’. This is where they’re linked to each other, for example if your landlord uses homophobic language to describe you on several occasions or continues to apply a discriminatory policy to you.
If the incidents are linked, the law calls them a 'continuing series of acts' or a 'continuing act' and time only begins to run when the last act is completed. This is covered in section 118(6)(a) of the Equality Act 2010.
If the incidents aren't linked, you’ll need to make separate discrimination claims with different deadlines. For example if your landlord made a racist comment and the letting agent made a sexist comment, they might not be the same continuing act. You should then use the earliest date as your deadline.
- the last incident is definitely discrimination - if it’s not and this means you made a late claim, the court could reject your case
- there’s a long gap between the different incidents - if they’re far apart, they might not be one continuing act
If you’re not sure of the date, it’s usually best to use the earliest date. If you use a later date for the deadline, the court could decide that the later incident wasn’t discrimination or that the acts aren’t linked and you wouldn’t have time to make a new claim.
For example if the discrimination last happened on 12 March, the court must get your claim form by 11 September. If your deadline falls at the weekend or on a bank holiday, it's best to take action on the last working day before the deadline so that you can be sure that your claim is made in time.
If your landlord, property manager or controller failed to make reasonable adjustments
If you asked for reasonable adjustments it can be hard to work out the date to start counting from. Check how to work out time limits for reasonable adjustments.
If you miss the deadline, you might be able to start a claim if the court thinks it’s fair - this is known as ‘just and equitable’. They might consider things like the reason for the delay, the length of the delay and the effect of a late claim on the other side.
You shouldn’t rely on this though as the court might decide not to allow you to make a late claim. Act quickly as this will give you a better chance of the court accepting your claim.
The court’s power to allow a late claim is in section 118 of the Equality Act 2010.
You should try to send a letter before action before you start legal action - allow time for this before the deadline too. It will take time to send the letter, get a reply and then start legal action.
If you don’t have time to send a letter before action, start the legal process anyway by getting your claim issued by the court. The court rules allow you delay sending the claim form to the other side after issuing the claim. Make sure you tell the court office that you want to send the form to the other side yourself. You have 4 months in which to send it. You can negotiate during that time.
The rules for what you have to do to and when to serve the claim form on the other party are in Parts 6 and 7 of the Civil Procedure Rules 1998.
It’s best to try to negotiate as well - the court might make you pay the other side’s costs or not order that they pay your costs even if you win the case if you don’t try to resolve your dispute out of court first.
If you didn't take legal advice before issuing the proceedings you should take legal advice about the proceedings as soon as you can.
Check how strong your case is
You should assess how strong your case is and reconsider this when you get any evidence from the other side.
You should make sure that you:
- have identified your legal rights
- have shown how those legal rights have been breached
- know the elements that must be established to prove you’ve got a legal right - this is different for each type of discrimination
You should write down the different elements of the case and add the facts that you have to support them. You can then write down whether you have any evidence to support those facts - like an email saying why you’re being treated in a certain way.
Doing this will also help you to work out what extra evidence you might need to get to be able to prove your case and identify any gaps or weaknesses in your case.
If you’re claiming more than one type of discrimination
You’ll need to do this for each one. Sometimes you'll be able to use the same evidence to show the different types of discrimination. For example, you might be able to use the same facts and evidence to show a claim of discrimination arising from disability as well as a failure to make reasonable adjustments.
Check if there’s any defence to the discrimination
Once you’ve matched the evidence you have to the elements of each type of discrimination, you should think about whether your landlord, property manager or controller will try to defend the case even if you can prove that the discrimination happened.
For indirect discrimination and discrimination arising from disability they could say that the action is justified as it is a ‘proportionate means to achieving a legitimate aim’. Indirect discrimination is covered in section 19 of the Equality Act 2010 and discrimination arising from disability is covered in section 15 of the Equality Act 2010.
For reasonable adjustments they could say what you've asked for isn't reasonable or that they don’t have to make the adjustments you’ve asked for. Reasonable adjustments are covered by sections 20, 36 and Schedule 4 of the Equality Act 2010.
You should think about anything that will weaken their argument, for example if there’s a less discriminatory way to achieve their aim or if their reasons have been inconsistent so don’t seem credible.
If you identify gaps in your evidence or you think having looked at your evidence and that of your landlord, property manager or controller that they have a stronger case you might decide to gather some more evidence and then reassess your case.
Check how strong your evidence is
You don’t always need to have lots of evidence to have a strong case - it’s usually more important that the evidence is of a good quality.
Strong evidence could include evidence that is:
- from someone who witnessed the discriminatory incident
- from someone who isn’t linked to either party
- factual - like a letter giving a poor reason for refusing a reasonable adjustment
- put together at the time or soon after the incident
Be careful about making claims or relying on incidents that you don't have evidence to support - there is a risk that you might have to cover some or all of the other side's costs if you've wasted court time because your claim wasn't very strong or was bound to fail. There is also risk that it could distract the court’s attention from your stronger arguments. Get help from an adviser if you need help to do this.
Check the court rules you have to follow
If you decide to go to court because you’ve been discriminated against, you’ll be expected to follow the rules on court action. These rules include:
- the Civil Procedure Rules
- the Practice Direction on pre-action conduct
- the Practice Direction - Proceedings under Enactments Relating to Equality
If you or the other side - you’re called ‘the parties’ - don't follow these rules, the court will take this into account when it makes its decision. If you haven't done what you’re supposed to, you might find that:
- your case won't be heard
- you might not be allowed to rely on certain evidence or arguments
- you might be ordered to pay the other side’s legal costs if you lose or run up legal costs unnecessarily by being unreasonable
- you might not recover your costs against the other side if you win the case if you run up legal costs unnecessarily by being unreasonable
The Civil Procedure Rules
The court’s main aim is to make sure that each case is dealt with fairly. If you decide that you want to take someone to court, the court will expect both parties to co-operate with each other as far as possible.
The Civil Procedure Rules are on GOV.UK - they're there to make sure that:
- the parties are on an equal footing
- the parties have tried to use other methods of sorting out the problem - like alternative dispute resolution
- the parties try to save costs where possible
- the way the case is dealt with reflects how much money is involved, how important or complicated the problem is and the financial position of the parties
- the case it dealt with quickly, efficiently and fairly - the legal term for this is ‘expeditiously and fairly’
Rules you must follow before you go to court
There are rules the parties must follow as general rules of best practice to make sure that time and money aren’t wasted before going to court. The rules are set out in the Practice Direction on pre-action conduct on GOV.UK. It says the parties must:
- let each other see any key documents that are relevant to the issues in dispute
- share the cost of expert evidence where possible
If the claim includes a claim for personal injury, there are special rules that apply these are called the ‘pre-action protocol for personal injury claims’
Start legal action
If you’ve decided that your case is strong enough and you want to start legal action, there are a few steps you’ll need to follow: