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Direct discrimination in housing

This advice applies to England

If you’ve been treated differently and worse by someone like a landlord or estate agent when renting or buying a property and it’s because of who you are, this could be direct discrimination.

Direct discrimination is unlawful under the Equality Act 2010. If you’ve experienced unlawful discrimination, you may be able to do something about it.

Read this page to find out more about direct discrimination in housing.

When is it direct 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.

Direct discrimination in housing is when someone like a landlord or estate agent treats you differently and worse than someone else for certain reasons, when you're renting or buying a property.

In housing, these reasons are:

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

The Equality Act calls these things protected characteristics.

Direct discrimination can be because of who you are. It can also be because of who someone thinks you are or because of someone you’re with or know.

Example

You’ve recently had to go into hospital because of your mental health condition but you’re hoping to be discharged soon. Your landlord has just given you notice to leave your flat. He says it’s because several members of the residents’ association have put pressure on him to give you notice because of your mental health condition.

This is direct disability discrimination. You’re being treated differently and worse than someone else because of your disability which is a protected characteristic. Your landlord wouldn’t have given you notice if you hadn’t been disabled.

Example

You’re a Muslim. Your landlord always takes much longer to respond to your maintenance requests than the other tenants in the same house. Sometimes he completely ignores your calls. If the reason he treats you worse than the other tenants is because you’re a Muslim, it’s direct discrimination because of religion or belief. This is unlawful under the Equality Act and you can do something about it.

What about advertisements which say only some people can apply to rent or buy a property?

If someone advertises a property for sale or rent, they can’t say only some people can apply or exclude certain people who have a protected characteristic. This is unlawful discrimination.

What counts as an advertisement?

An advertisement includes all kinds of notices or circulars. Advertisements can appear in any publication, on the radio, television, or on a website.

Example

Someone has put an advert on the internet saying a flat is available to let for women only. You’re a man and would like to apply to rent this flat. This is unlawful discrimination against you because of your sex.

When might it not be unlawful discrimination?

If there’s a law which says it’s not unlawful to discriminate against you

It’s not unlawful to discriminate against you if there’s a law which allows it. For example, some people from abroad are not eligible by law for local authority housing or help with homelessness. If a local authority refuses to provide social housing to someone from abroad because the law says they’re not eligible, this is not unlawful race discrimination.

Selling or letting a property privately

There are some situations where it’s not unlawful discrimination to refuse to let or sell you a property because of a protected characteristic.

This is where someone sells or lets a property privately without using an estate agent or advertising it. There is also an exception when someone lets out part of a property where they live.

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)

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