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Discrimination in housing - why are you treated unfairly?

This advice applies to Scotland

If you’ve been treated unfairly when renting, buying or living in a property because of who you are, you may have been discriminated against.

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. If you’ve experienced unlawful discrimination, you may be able to do something about it.

Read this page to find out more about if you’re someone who mustn’t be discriminated against in housing.

Top tips

If you want to know if unlawful discrimination has taken place you need to check:

  • why you are being treated unfairly
  • who is treating you unfairly
  • what's the unfair treatment
  • how is the treatment unfair or what type of discrimination it is.

Why are you being treated unfairly?

If you’re treated, unfairly it’s only unlawful discrimination if the reason behind the treatment is that you or someone else belongs to a particular group. People who belong to these groups have what’s called protected characteristics.

The characteristics that are protected by the Equality Act when you’re renting or buying a property are:

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

Example

You’re gay. Your landlord is charging you more for your flat than your neighbour who’s not gay. But the reason is because your flat is slightly bigger and has been newly refurbished, not because you’re gay. You couldn’t complain about discrimination because of sexual orientation in this case

Unfair treatment because of who someone thinks you are

It’s also unlawful discrimination if someone treats you unfairly because they think you have a protected characteristic, even if you don’t.

This is called discrimination by perception.

Example

An estate agent refuses to show you a flat because she thinks you’re Jewish. This is discrimination because of religion, even if you’re not actually Jewish.

Unfair treatment because of someone you’re with or someone you know

It’s also unlawful discrimination if someone treats you unfairly because of someone you’re with, or someone you know. This could be a parent, child, partner or friend.

This is called discrimination by association.  

Example

You’re about to sign a tenancy agreement for a house. When the landlord finds out one of your children is disabled, he says you can’t rent the house any more. This could be discrimination against you because of your disabled child. This is unlawful and you can take action under the Equality Act.

If you’re treated unfairly by a public authority

What's a public authority?

A public authority is an organisation which provides public services. This can be a public sector organisation, like a local authority. Private organisations or charities, which carry out public services or functions, may also be public authorities - for example, a housing association.

Protection against discrimination under human rights law

Public authorities must follow the Human Rights Act 1998. The Human Rights Act also protects you from discrimination, but only in connection with your human rights under the Act. This means you mustn’t be discriminated against in your enjoyment of your human rights.

The protection against discrimination in the Human Rights Act is wider than in the Equality Act. It protects you from discrimination because of things like sex, race, disability and religion, but it also protects you from discrimination because of other things.

These are:

  • language
  • political opinion
  • national or social origin
  • property and birth
  • association with a national minority
  • other status - this includes sexual orientation, age and transsexual people.

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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