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About religious discrimination

It is illegal for landlords, councils, mortgage lenders and other service providers to discriminate against you because of your religion or beliefs. This page looks at what religious discrimination is, how the law protects you, and how this affects your housing rights.

What is religious discrimination?

Religious discrimination takes place when you are treated less favourably than another person, because:

  • of your religious or philosophical beliefs
  • you don't have a religion or hold particular beliefs, or
  • the person discriminating against you thinks you follow a particular religion or hold particular beliefs, even if you don't, or
  • your friends or family follow a particular religion or hold certain beliefs.

A religion is defined as a system of beliefs with a clear structure, such as Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Rastafarianism and Jainism. Denominations or sects within a religion can also be considered as a religion or religious belief, for example Catholics or Protestants within Christianity.

Where do my rights come from?

The Equality Act 2010 makes it illegal for someone to discriminate against you because of your religion or beliefs. This Act replaced the Equality Act 2006.

What about racial discrimination?

In some cases, you may be able to argue that you are being discriminated against on racial grounds as well. This could be the case if:

  • your religious group is also a racial group, as is the case for Jewish and Sikh people, or
  • by discriminating against you on religious grounds, the person or organisation is indirectly discriminating against you racially (for example, if a landlord refuses to let out property to Muslims and Hindus, this could be seen as indirect discrimination against Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Indian people).

Read the section on racial discrimination to find out what you can do in this situation.

In what situations does the law protect me?

The law protects you if you experience religious discrimination:

  • at work, or when applying for a job
  • when you rent or buy a home
  • at school, college or university
  • when you're dealing with authorities such as the police, the council or a benefit agency
  • when you buy goods or use services provided by, for example:

    • shops
    • pubs, restaurants and nightclubs
    • banks, insurance companies and other financial institutions
    • cinemas, theatres and leisure centres
    • public transport, travel agents and airlines
    • builders, plumbers and other tradespeople
    • doctors, hospitals and other health providers.

This section looks at your rights in housing situations, for example, when you're renting or buying property, or applying for a mortgage. Your rights at work or at school and university are different, and are protected by different laws. You can find out more about your rights at work at the Direct.gov website.

What kinds of religious discrimination are there?

Under the Equality Act there are four kinds of religious discrimination:

  • direct discrimination,
  • indirect discrimination, 
  • victimisation and
  • harassment.

What is direct religious discrimination?

Direct religious discrimination takes place if you are treated less favourably than other people because of your religious beliefs. For example, you are:

  • refused a service because of your religion (for example, if a landlord refuses to rent accommodation to you)
  • given a lower standard of service because of your religion (for example, if your landlord won't let you access facilities such as a laundry room or garden, which other tenants use, or is rude to you but polite to other tenants).

The person providing the goods or services will not have discriminated against you if they refuse you a service because of their own religion. For example, if your landlord won't let you use a facility on a Sunday, because this is a religious day of rest for them, this wouldn't count as discrimination against you.

What is indirect religious discrimination?

Indirect religious discrimination happens when a service provider such as a landlord, council or mortgage lender introduces for no good reason a rule or policy that applies equally to everybody but is more restrictive for people from a certain religious group.

For example, a landlord only opens the laundry room on a Saturday, but you are Jewish and this is your day of rest.

If you landlord has a good reason for having a particular policy in place (for example, because it's necessary on health or safety grounds) then this won't be indirect religious discrimination.

What is victimisation?

Victimisation takes place if you have been treated badly because:

  • you have complained about religious discrimination, or
  • you have helped another person complain, or
  • the person discriminating against you suspects you have done so.

For example, you may be in the process of taking someone to court for religious discrimination, or have given evidence in court to back up another person's case. Victimisation is also against the law.

What is religious harassment?

If you are verbally abused, attacked or made to feel uncomfortable because of your race, this is religious harassment. There are different ways of dealing with religious harassment depending on the particular circumstances. You can find out more about dealing with religious harassment here.

How does this affect my housing rights?

It's against the law for a landlord, letting agent, estate agent, council or housing association to discriminate against you on religious grounds. This includes letting out or selling houses, flats, mobile homes, business premises and agricultural land. The law also covers services provided by financial institutions, so it's also illegal for mortgage lenders to discriminate against you on the grounds of religion.

When you're renting a home

If you're renting accommodation, discrimination may occur if:

  • a landlord or letting agency:
    • won't allow you to view a property for rent or refuses to let a property to you because of your religion
    • gives you worse terms in your tenancy agreement than other tenants they let property to
    • charges you a higher rent or larger deposit than other tenants they let similar properties to
    • restricts your use of facilities that other tenants have full access to (such as parking or a communal garden)
    • won't let you assign (pass on) your tenancy or sublet your home to someone of a particular religion
    • tries to evict you because of your religion
  • a student accommodation service places ethnic minority students in halls of residence with fewer or poorer facilities.

When you're dealing with the council or a housing association

If you're dealing with a council or housing association discrimination may occur if:

  • a council refuses to accept a homeless application from you (unless you aren't eligible to apply)
  • a council or housing association:
    • refuses to put your name down on their housing waiting list, or puts you lower down the list than other people in the same situation as you who are of a different religion
    • gives you a short Scottish secure tenancy instead of a Scottish secure tenancy because of your religion.

When you're accessing supported accommodation

If you're moving into supported accommodation, such as sheltered housing or a care home, discrimination may occur if:

  • you're refused a place in a care home or sheltered housing unit because of your religion
  • you receive a worse standard of treatment from staff in the supported accommodation.

When you're buying a home

If you're buying a home, discrimination may occur if:

  • an estate agent or owner won't let you look round a property that's up for sale
  • an estate agent or owner refuses your offer on a property because of your religion
  • a mortgage lender refuses your application for a mortgage because of your religion, or offers you a mortgage on more restrictive terms.

When you're applying for planning permission

If you apply for planning permission and your application is turned down on religious grounds, this is also discrimination.

Does protection from discrimination apply in all situations?

There are some situations in which the protection from religious discrimination doesn't apply. For example, where you would be living with your landlord.

Home owners

Home owners can take a person's religion into account if they are renting out a room of their home to a lodger and they haven't used an agent to advertise the property.

Resident landlords

Some landlords can also take into account your religion or belief it:

  • they are letting or subletting their own home, or
  • a close relative of the landlord lives there (for example, their wife or husband, civil partner, parent, child or adopted child, grandparent or grandchild, or brother or sister, including, for example, half-sister, step-sister and sister-in-law), and
  • they share some accommodation with their tenants (for example, a living room or kitchen - shared storage space doesn't count), and
  • the home is classed as a 'small premises' - this means that, in addition to the person letting the property and their family, there are no more than:
    • two other households living there (for example, two couples or families), or
    • six unrelated people living there.

Accommodation provided by religious charities

Religious organisations or charities set up to help people of a certain religion are allowed to provide services only to that particular religion. For example, a hostel set up to help homeless Muslim people would be allowed to refuse entry to anyone who wasn't Muslim.

What can I do if I think someone is discriminating against me because of my religion?

If you believe a person or organisation has discriminated against you because of your religion or beliefs, you may be able to take action against them. Read the page on dealing with religious discrimination to find out more.

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