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Disability discrimination in rented housing

A private landlord or letting agent should provide a reason if they reject your application to rent a home. It may be discrimination if you feel that you’ve been treated unfairly or differently because:

  • you are disabled
  • you receive benefits

Understand your rights

Your condition or impairment may be protected under the Equality Act 2010. This is called a protected characteristic. The Act defines this as:

“a physical or mental impairment, and the impairment has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on [your] ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities"

By law, 'long-term' means that your condition:

  • has lasted for at least 12 months
  • or is expected to last at least 12 months
  • or means that you’re expected to live for less than 12 months

Being classified as 'disabled' under the Equality Act usually means how your condition affects you, not what your condition is.

Read more about protected characteristics

Section 33 of the Equality Act is about housing.

It says you can take action against people or companies who discriminate against you when they:

  • sell or rent a property to you
  • manage a home you live in

Check if it’s discrimination

There are different ways a landlord or letting agent can treat you unfairly or differently, including:

  • stopping you from renting a home
  • charging you more or asking for a higher deposit
  • giving you a worse contract or service
  • refusing to help you or threatening you

A landlord or letting agent has a duty to make reasonable adjustments to help you live in a property. What is reasonable and who pays depends on what you ask for.

Asking for adjustments to help with your disability (Citizens Advice)

It might be discrimination if it relates to your condition or impairment or because you receive benefits. Discrimination can be direct, indirect or by association.

An example of direct discrimination

Your housing association might decide that adapting the property is not the most cost-effective way to meet your needs. They might put you on a waiting list for an adapted property instead.

An example of indirect discrimination

The letting agent says they have a policy not to rent to people receiving benefits. This is indirect discrimination because disabled people are more likely to claim benefits than non-disabled people.

An example of discrimination by association

The landlord makes assumptions about your work situation because your child is disabled. They refuse to rent to you. This is discrimination by association.

It may not be discrimination if it does not relate to your condition or impairment. For example, if you’re charged more rent because your flat is bigger than your neighbour’s.

Check if your housing problem is discrimination (Citizens Advice)

Disability discrimination and the law

Challenging discrimination in housing

Ask the landlord or letting agent for a reason if they rejected your application to rent but did not tell you why.

Depending on their answer and your situation, you may be able to challenge their decision.


Write a letter or email to complain to the landlord or letting agent if you think it’s discrimination. You could include:

  • details of what happened
  • the rental advert
  • why you think it’s discrimination and what the law says
  • if you feel they should reconsider your application
  • if you believe they should change their process, for example if they do not rent to people receiving benefits
  • that you expect them to reply within 7 days

If they rejected your application because you claim benefits, consider including links to Shelter news stories, such as:

Landmark court ruling declares housing benefit discrimination is unlawful (Shelter)

If you ask them to reconsider your application, it may help to show why you’re a suitable tenant. Even if you’ve already provided your rental history, you could also include:

  • proof of your monthly income from wages and benefits
  • proof you can provide a deposit or rent in advance
  • a reference from your current or former landlord
  • a copy of your rent statement

Use Shelter’s template letters to ask the letting agent or landlord to reconsider your application or to make a formal complaint about DSS discrimination.

Contact your nearest Citizens Advice for help with your letter

Keep copies of the letter, any other documents you send, and any documents you receive from the landlord or letting agent.

Escalating your complaint

If your complaint is against a letting agent and you want to take your complaint further, you should be able to escalate the complaint to the Property Ombudsman or Property Redress Scheme. These are schemes that regulate lettings agencies.

The agent must display the name of the scheme they belong to in their offices and on their website. The council can fine agents up to £5,000 if they are not a member of either scheme.

You can contact the scheme that the agent belongs to if:

  • the agent ignores your letter and fails to provide a final response within 8 weeks
  • you are not satisfied with the agent’s final response

Making a complaint to The Property Ombudsman (Shelter)

Complain on the Property Ombudsman’s website.

You will need to summarise your complaint and make it clear what you would like the agent to do. You could write something like "I would like the agent to":

  • admit that I have faced unfair treatment or indirect discrimination
  • offer me a viewing and consider my application to rent a suitable property
  • compensate me for lost opportunity, distress, aggravation and inconvenience
  • provide staff training on DSS discrimination so they can advise landlords properly
  • ask landlords for proof if they say that their mortgage or insurance prevents lettings to tenants on benefits

You will need to upload copies of any supporting evidence when you submit the form. For supporting evidence, you should upload:

  • a copy of the original property advert
  • copies of all correspondence including emails and texts
  • notes of any conversations in person or over the phone

The most important documents to upload are your complaint letters and the final response from the agent. It can take several months for the Ombudsman to review your complaint. They will let you know if it's likely to take longer than 3 months to reach a decision.

The Ombudsman could tell the agent to make a formal apology, change their processes or pay compensation. Compensation through the Ombudsman is usually less than £500.

You may want to consider taking legal action if:

  • you do not receive a reply
  • the landlord or letting agent disagrees that it was discrimination
  • the landlord or letting agent refuses to help you or change their practices
  • you are not able to escalate your complaint to the Property Ombudsman or the Property Redress Scheme (for instance, if your complaint is against a private landlord who is not regulated by the schemes).

Taking legal action against a person or company is a long, expensive and stressful process. But some people find it rewarding to get their case heard and make a change.

If you are unable to afford to pay for legal representation, check if you are eligible for legal aid and try to find a legal aid firm to represent you. If you start a legal claim without legal aid funding and you lose, you will likely have to pay for the other side’s legal costs, which could be a lot of money.

The deadline for starting a claim in the County Court is 6 months less 1 day from the date of the discrimination.

On 1 June 2020, the letting agent told you that they would not rent to you because you receive benefits. You have until 31 November 2020 (6 months less 1 day) to start a claim.

Before deciding if you're going to take legal action, ask people close to you what they think as you may need their support.

You should also:

  • think about what outcome you want
  • check what evidence you have to support your case
  • see if you can get legal aid

Get legal aid

You may be able to get legal aid to help you pay for your court action. An application for legal aid can take months and can be refused.

Check if you can get legal aid (GOV.UK)

Contact the Equality Advisory Support Service (EASS) for advice

Or there may be options for you to get cheaper legal support. You could try:

How to make a claim

To start a legal claim, you’ll need to send a ‘pre-action letter’ to the landlord or letting agent. You should include:

  • that you plan to start a legal claim against them
  • details of what happened
  • what you expect them to do, for example apologise, change their practice or provide compensation
  • that they have 1 month to respond

Use the Which? pre-action letter template (Which?)

If they do not respond or you cannot reach an agreement, you could start a claim in the County Court for discrimination.

Taking legal action about discrimination (Citizens Advice)

Evidence to support your case

Before taking legal action, think about what evidence you have to support your case. It’s a good idea to:

  • take screenshots or print out all letters, emails and texts
  • keep a written record of any conversations in person or by phone
  • get a written statement from anyone who was with you during these conversations
  • keep a copy of the property advert if it’s relevant

You could also check that the landlord or letting agent has followed their own policies.

Gathering evidence about housing discrimination (Citizens Advice)

Last reviewed by Scope on: 31/01/2022

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