Private landlords who reject housing benefit claimants could be breaking the law.
A recent legal case saw single mother Rosie Keogh win compensation for sex discrimination from a letting agency that refused to consider her as a tenant for a property in the Kings Heath area of Birmingham after she revealed that at least part of her rental payment would come via benefits.
Keogh, a cleaner and former paralegal, successfully argued that blanket bans on benefit claimants indirectly discriminated against women, especially single women, as they are proportionately more likely to be claiming housing benefit than single men.
She had been living in the same property for 11 years with the rent being paid in full every time.
After a letter of complaint was dismissed by the agents, the mother of one issued a claim for discrimination in the county court.
“I felt something had to be done to challenge it. I was motivated by anger at such inequitable practice,” said Keogh.
“It made me feel like a second-class citizen.
“You are being treated differently – and it’s women and women with children who are bearing the brunt of this because they need to work part-time.”
A survey of 1,137 private landlords for housing charity Shelter last year found that 43% had an outright ban on letting to such claimants. A further 18% preferred not to let to them.
Keogh was supported in her case by Shelter, whose legal officer Rose Arnall, commented: “By applying a blanket policy they are actually preventing good tenants from accessing the private rented sector.
“Women are more likely to be caring for children and therefore working part-time and are therefore more likely to top up their income by claiming housing benefit.”
Chris Norris, head of policy at the National Landlords Association, agreed there was no place for discrimination on the basis of someone’s gender.
He told the BBC: “Cases like this highlight the very worst of what a minority of renters have to put up with when looking to secure a home in the private rented sector.
“The number of landlords willing to rent to housing benefit tenants has fallen dramatically over the last few years because cuts to welfare and problems with the universal credit system are making it more and more difficult for anyone in receipt of housing support to pay their rent on time and sustain long-term tenancies.”