Complaining about housing discrimination
You'll need to check a few things before you can take action about housing discrimination.
You'll need to:
- make sure it's discrimination under the Equality Act 2010
- check it's harassment under the Equality Act if you're being harassed
- check that complaining is the best option - this includes finding out how secure your tenancy is if you're renting
- gather evidence before you start your complaint
- find contact details for the person or organisation you want to complain to - details might be on their website or your tenancy agreement
You can complain directly to whoever's discriminating against you. If that doesn't solve the problem, you can ask another organisation or person to help, or it might be best to take legal action.
Deciding how to complain
It's often a good idea to complain informally first, and then make a formal complaint if that doesn't work. In some cases, though, it might be better to go straight to making a formal complaint.
To decide whether to make a formal or informal complaint first, you should think about:
- who you're complaining about
- what rights you have to stay in your home and the risk of being evicted for making the complaint
- whether there is a formal complaints procedure
- your ongoing relationship with the person you're complaining about, for example if they’re your landlord
- if you're near the deadline for taking legal action
- whether you've mentioned the problem before
Paul rents a flat from a private landlord who he has a good relationship with. He's got a short assured tenancy. The initial 6 months lease has ended and according to the tenancy agreement he is now renting the flat on a rolling monthly basis. He can be evicted fairly easily, as long as his landlord follows the right process and gives him at least 2 months' notice.
The landlord always collects the rent on Friday afternoons on her way to work. Paul is a practising Muslim and attends Friday prayers, so he isn't in when his landlord comes to collect the rent. This means he's charged a late payment fee.
Paul thinks his landlord's practice of collecting the rent on a Friday is indirect discrimination as it puts Muslim tenants at a particular disadvantage when compared with non-Muslim tenants.
Paul feels that his landlord is usually quite helpful when dealing with things like repairs, and he doesn't want to annoy her and risk being evicted. He therefore decides to ask her informally to change the day she collects rent. He explains why it's causing him a disadvantage and suggests that he could pay the rent by bank transfer or she could collect the rent on another day.
If his landlord doesn't make the change, he could ask more formally or he might decide not to ask formally and to take the complaint further another way, for example by taking court action.
Robyn wants to complain to her housing association because she was sexually harassed by one of their staff.
She decides not to make an informal complaint, and to complain formally straight away.
This is because:
- the housing association has a formal complaints procedure that she feels confident using
- she doesn't feel comfortable making an informal complaint to one of her harasser's coworkers
- she doesn't think her landlord will try to evict her for complaining because they're a large housing association with a good reputation
- she's got an 'assured' tenancy so knows her landlord can't evict her without having a reason - complaining about discrimination would not be a valid ground for possession and would also be unlawful victimisation
- she doesn't want to lose the opportunity to take legal action, and there are only 6 weeks until the deadline
Making an informal complaint
Contact whoever is discriminating against you and tell them you want to complain - you'll need to do this even if you've been in touch with them about the problem, for example to ask for reasonable adjustments.
If you're worried, you can get help with making your complaint.
You can get someone to complain on your behalf if you don't feel confident, but they'll need to show you've given them permission to do this.
Complaining in writing
You could write a letter or email if:
- you've already spoken to the landlord, property manager or controller but it didn't solve the problem
- you think your complaint will be taken more seriously if it's in writing
- you're complaining to a large organisation which is used to dealing with written complaints - like a local council
Keep a copy of what you sent them. If you send a letter, ask the Post Office for proof of postage - you might need to show when you sent your complaint.
If a landlord or letting agent won’t accept you because you’re on benefits
If a landlord or letting agent has their own rule of not renting to people who get benefits, this could be discrimination under the Equality Act. You might see this written on property adverts as ‘no DSS’, ‘no benefits’ or ‘no Universal Credit’.
Write to the landlord or letting agent asking them to change their mind. You could still be turned down if you can’t afford the property, so make sure you can afford it before you write to them.
In your letter or email you should include:
the advert you saw, or a conversation you had with the agent or landlord
your personal situation - say if you’re a woman or disabled
your financial situation and ability to afford the rent
a statement that ‘no DSS’ policies could be unlawful discrimination under the Equality Act 2010.
If it’s a letting agent, you should also say that they must not discriminate under the Letting Agent Code of Practice.
If the landlord or letting agent doesn’t change their mind or they don’t reply within 7 days, talk to an adviser.
Complaining in person or on the phone
It might be worth doing this if you have a good relationship with the person you're complaining to or if you're worried about being evicted.
Write notes afterwards - these will be useful if you need to take things further. Include the date and the name of the person you spoke to.
You should follow up in writing if you don't get a reply within a reasonable time - like 14 days.
What to say when you complain
When you complain you should:
- describe what happened to you
- say if anyone else witnessed what happened
- explain how the situation has affected you
- describe what you want to happen
If you're complaining in writing, say when you want a reply - 14 days is a reasonable amount of time.
Include any extra details you have and send copies of evidence you've collected.
You don't have to use legal language, it might help if you think it will encourage the person to reply to you.
If you do want to use legal language, you could:
- explain that it's discrimination under the Equality Act 2010
- give the type of discrimination, for example direct or indirect
- say the section or Part of the Equality Act 2010 that covers it - find out the section or Part if you're not sure
Example written informal complaint
I visited your office on 4 September and asked to view 7 Home Hill, which I wanted to rent. I spoke to one of your letting agents (Andy Ludlow). When I said I’m Chinese, he said I couldn’t complete the application because they don’t rent to anyone who isn’t British.
My friend who was with me in your office heard Andy say this and can confirm what he said. She told Andy he was being unfair but he didn’t reply.
I felt this was unfair, and that Andy discriminated against me because of my race.
I would be a good tenant - I've always paid my rent on time and never caused damage to any home I've lived in.
I'm feeling really stressed by this situation as 7 Home Hill is close to my work and my child's school.
I'd like you to arrange a viewing of 7 Home Hill for me as soon as possible, and would also like an apology.
If you're complaining to a local council or housing association
There are extra duties for local councils and most housing associations about discrimination and human rights. If they don't meet these duties, you can make extra arguments when you complain about discrimination.
The extra arguments include using the 'Public Sector Equality Duty' and also 'public law'. Public law is your right to complain against a public or government organisation when they've done something they shouldn't have or failed to do something they should have done.
When you complain, you'll need to describe the problem and say why you think it's discrimination. You should also say why you think the council or housing association hasn't met any extra duties they have.
Referring to the extra duties might make your complaint stronger. You can also ask them to explain how they've met these extra duties - this is a good way for you to gather extra evidence you may need later on.
Include any extra details you have and send copies of evidence you've collected.
Maja is visually impaired and lives in a council home. The council say they're closing the phone line that she uses to report problems with her home. Instead, they want tenants to report problems online. Maja finds it hard to use computers, so wouldn't be able to report problems this way.
Maja writes to the council to say she's been discriminated against. She tells them they haven't made reasonable adjustments. She explains that they ignored her when she asked if she'd be able to phone a council staff member instead.
She also tells the council they haven't met the Public Sector Equality Duty because they haven't thought about how their decision to close the phone line will affect visually impaired people who can't use computers. They also haven't put systems in place to reduce the impact on this group.
“When you decided to close the phone line you failed to have due regard to your Public Sector Equality Duty to eliminate unlawful discrimination. Please provide me with details about how you have complied with your duty."
You might also be able to complain using human rights law.
Dealing with a reply to your informal complaint
Keep a copy of any replies you get even if you're happy with the answer. You should also keep any notes you've made if you complained in person or on the phone.
If you disagree with the reply you can take your complaint further.
If they've given a reason for their actions
If you think it's indirect discrimination or discrimination arising from a disability, it won't be against the law if they can show they have a good enough reason for it. You can check the types of discrimination if you're not sure.
To have a good reason, they have to be able to show that the way you were treated is a ‘proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim’. There are 2 parts to showing this.
Firstly, they have to show the aim is legitimate. A legitimate aim could be:
- the health and safety of other people
- making sure their business can run properly
- making sure neighbours aren’t disturbed too much
Secondly, their behaviour has to be proportionate - this means they can't discriminate any more than they need to. If there are better and fairer ways of doing things, it will be more difficult to justify discrimination.
Your argument will be stronger if you can think of a way of meeting the legitimate aim that discriminates against you less.
If you're not sure whether the behaviour is proportionate you should think about:
- how many people with your protected characteristic would be affected - a high number makes it harder to justify their actions
- how badly people are affected - for example, evicting someone will be harder to justify than causing them a small inconvenience
If you're not sure if the discrimination is justified, get help from an adviser.
If you think they could meet their aims in a way that is less discriminatory, you could reply and suggest the different way.
Rachael moves into a new home and wants to attach a mezuzah to the doorway - this is an important part of her Jewish faith.
Her landlord has a rule that tenants can't attach anything to the walls or doors. Rachael has argued that this is indirect discrimination because the mezuzah is part of her religion.
The landlord says it's not discrimination because there's a good reason for the rule - to prevent damage. He is saying that it's a 'proportionate means to achieving a legitimate aim'.
Rachael could suggests ways of achieving the aim that are less discriminatory. For example she could offer to repair any damage when she leaves, or agree that the landlord can take the cost of repairing damage from her deposit.
Rachael could also explain that the mezuzah won't cause much damage. It's therefore not 'proportionate' to not allow her to attach one to her doorway.
Making a formal complaint
If you made an informal complaint and your problem still isn't solved, you could make a formal complaint or take further action instead.
You can make a formal complaint straight away even if you haven't made an informal complaint first.
Start by checking if whoever is discriminating against you has a complaints procedure. This might be on their website or you might have to ask for it.
Make sure you follow the complaints procedure, for example you might have to call a customer service phone number or fill in an online form.
If they don't have a complaints procedure, for example if it's a private landlord, write them a letter or email. If you've done this already as part of your informal complaint, it's OK to do it again - you'll need to write that it's a formal complaint.
If you're writing to an organisation, address it to the complaints team or the manager.
If you're worried about making a formal complaint you can get help from an adviser.
What to say in your complaint
- write that you're making a formal complaint (mention the complaints procedure if there is one)
- describe the problem and what you want to happen
- explain the problem is discrimination under part 4 of the Equality Act 2010 - and give the type of discrimination, for example direct or indirect
- give details of any complaints you've already made and say you're unhappy with the way they were handled - give dates and how you contacted them
- give the same information as any previous complaints and details of anything new that's happened
- explain when you want a reply - if there's a complaints procedure it might say how long replies will take
Keep a copy of the complaint you've sent. For example If you filled in a form you could take a photo of the screen. Or you can save the page as a screenshot or a file on your computer. This will help later if you need to prove you complained.
You should also keep any emails or letters you get saying your complaint has been received.
If your informal or formal complaint hasn’t solved the problem
If you haven't received a reply or your problem still isn't solved, you could send a further letter to ask for a response. If this doesn't solve the problem, you can take your complaint further.
Sending a letter to ask for a reply
You could write something like:
"I wrote to you on 23 April 2018 making a complaint (copy enclosed). I asked you to reply to me within 14 days. I have still not received a response from you and ask again that you reply to me without delay. If I do not hear from you within the next 7 days I will take my complaint further. "
If the person you're complaining to has said how long it takes to deal with the complaint, for example on their website or in their complaints policy, you could also point this out. You could say:
"I wrote to you on 23 April 2018 making a complaint (copy enclosed). Your website says that you will acknowledge complaints within 5 working days and reply within 21 working days. I have not heard from you further. Please reply to me without delay. If I do not hear from you within 7 days of this letter I will take my complaint further."
Taking the complaint further
If your problem still isn't solved there are usually 3 options:
- take legal action
- report it to an organisation that will help - this might be called an 'ombudsman' or a 'member organisation'
- ask a mediator to help you find a compromise
If you need help deciding the best way to solve your problem you can get help.
Reporting your problem to an ombudsman or member organisation is free but decisions can't be enforced by the law. For example, if a landlord doesn't do what an ombudsman tells them, there's nothing you can do.
If you report your problem you might not get compensation - if you do it could be less than if you took legal action and won.
Legal action can be stressful and take a long time. It can also be expensive, although you might be able to get help with legal costs.
You should think about how much proof you have of the discrimination. If you don't have much evidence it can be hard to win a legal case.
If you want to take legal action, you should start it as soon as you can. You can usually only take legal action within 6 months of the problem happening or starting.
If you prefer to take a less formal approach, you could ask a mediator to help. This is a person who doesn't know either side and who's trained to help people resolve disagreements. You might have to pay for a mediator.
Reporting the discrimination to an ombudsman or another organisation
You might be able to report the problem to an ombudsman, that will examine the case from both sides to reach a decision they think is fair.
Their website will say how to complain - they'll usually expect you to have complained directly to the person who's discriminating against you first.
Contact them as soon as you can - they might have a deadline for reporting problems.
Reporting a private landlord
All private landlords in Scotland have to be registered on the Scottish Landlord Register. This is to make sure they’re a 'fit and proper' person to let property. If your landlord has unlawfully discriminated against you they’ll fail the fit and proper person test and the local authority can take action to remove them from the register and stop them renting to people. This would mean you’d have to find a new place to live.
You can find out whether your landlord is registered and see their contact details by looking on the Landlord Registration website.
Reporting your local council or housing association
If you want to complain about discrimination by a local council or a housing association, you can take your complaint to the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (SPSO). The SPSO won't normally take complaints that have gone to court or which it thinks are better dealt with by a court.
If the ombudsman upholds your complaint, you won't usually get financial compensation. They might require the council or housing association to do things like:
- apologise to you in writing
- change their processes for people in the future
see more about how to use an ombudsman or commissioner for Scotland.
Reporting a letting agent or estate agent
You might be able to complain to an ombudsman or a tribunal.
There are 2 ombudsman services which can deal with complaints about estate agents and letting agents. These are:
The Property Ombudsman
The Property Redress Scheme
If you want to make a complaint, you need to find out whether they're a letting agent or an estate agent and which ombudsman they're registered with. You can do this by asking them or search for them on the ombudsman websites. See more about how to use an ombudsman or commissioner in Scotland.
Letting agents in Scotland must be registered with the Register of Letting Agents. They have to follow a Letting Agent Code of Practice which says they can't discriminate against a tenant, landlord or prospective tenant. As well as being able to complain to an ombudsman, if you've experienced unlawful discrimination by a letting agent you can apply to the First Tier Tribunal (Housing and Property Chamber) for a decision that the letting agent has failed to comply with the Code. The Tribunal can make an order requiring the letting agent to take action to put things right, and where appropriate, make a payment to you. See more about letting agent regulation and how to complain.
Using a mediator
A mediator is a person who doesn't know either side and who's trained to help people resolve disagreements. They'll make a fair decision based on the facts and what each side wants. They might talk to you together or separately.
Make sure you understand whether the mediation will be 'binding'. This means you'd have to agree that the mediator's decision is final and you wouldn't, for example, be able to take legal action to try to get a different decision.
Mediation isn't compulsory, so the other side might refuse. You can still take court action if this happens. If the other side suggests mediation and you refuse it could be used against you later if you go to court. You might have to pay extra costs.
If you're not sure whether to see a mediator you can get help.
Finding a mediator
Check your local council's website - they might help even if you're not a council tenant. You can find your local council on GOV.UK.You can also look for a mediator on the Scottish Mediation Register