How to deal with housing discrimination
If you've been discriminated against by a service provider when renting or buying a home, there are organisations that can help. A service provider could be:
a landlord or letting agency
a council or housing association
an estate agency or mortgage lender
Identifying the type of discrimination you've experienced will help you take the steps to resolve the issue. As a last resort, you can take legal action.
You can experience discrimination based on any of these protected characteristics:
pregnancy or maternity
your religion or beliefs
your sexual orientation
marriage or civil partnership status
gender reassignment (being trans: transsexual or transgender)
your race (including if you’re in the Gypsy or Traveller community)
You can also be discriminated against for:
someone else’s protected characteristic
someone thinking you’ve got a protected characteristic, but you do not
Types of discrimination
There are 5 main kinds of discrimination.
Direct discrimination happens when you're treated worse than others because of your protected characteristic.
Example: refusing to rent to you
A landlord refuses your housing application because they have a personal prejudice against your religion.
Indirect discrimination happens when a service provider has a rule or policy that discriminates against a certain group.
Example: no DSS policies
If a landlord or letting agent refuses you housing because you are on housing benefit or universal credit (‘no DSS’ on the rental advert) this could be sex, disability or race discrimination.
This is because women, disabled people and some ethnic groups are statistically more likely to be on housing-related benefits.
Victimisation happens when you're treated badly or punished for having complained, or helped someone complain, about discrimination.
Example: you help your neighbour and receive bad treatment
You and your neighbour rent from the same housing association. Your neighbour has experienced racial discrimination from a housing officer and you act as a witness in his discrimination case. The housing association staff start treating you badly and threaten to evict you. This is victimisation.
Harassment happens if you're verbally abused, attacked or made to feel uncomfortable because of a protected characteristic.
Follow our guidance to deal with harassment in or around your home.
Example: someone harasses you when you apply for council housing
You apply for council housing and you overhear a council staff member referring to you with a derogatory transphobic slur. Even if you're not trans, this is a type of discrimination called harassment.
In some cases, service providers have to make reasonable adjustments to their services and premises so you can access them. These could include:
installing an accessible toilet
providing a ramp or handrails at the entrance to their premises
giving you written information in alternative formats, like Braille or large print
They must also:
change policies, practices and procedures that make it unreasonably difficult for you to use their service
provide help and services if that will help you use the service, such as an interpreter for a meeting
There are exceptions to this. Check our guidance on your rights if you're disabled and rent your home.
When discrimination is allowed
Discrimination can sometimes be legal, including if it's:
necessary to resolve another injustice
in the interests of health and safety
the only way that service can be provided
Example: you're disabled and getting homeless help from the council
You're offered a room in a hotel for the night by the council when you make a homeless application. That hotel may only have a few rooms that are fully accessible, giving you a reduced choice. The hotel in this case could justify providing you with a reduced service if it's the only way they can offer it.
If there's a way to provide the same service without discriminating against you the housing provider would probably not be able to rely on this.
Contact the Equality Advisory and Support Service if you need help. They can help you work out if the discrimination you've experienced is illegal.
If you've experienced housing discrimination
Check our guidance and letter templates to challenge "no DSS" benefits discrimination.
To challenge other types of discrimination, take these steps.
Step 1: collect evidence
Gather as much evidence as you can, such as:
detailed notes on when, where and how the discrimination took place
written discriminatory policies
letters, emails and texts between you and the service provider
You can ask people who were with you for witness statements. This will help if you decide to take your case to court.
Step 2: send a complaint in writing
You must write to the service provider to try to resolve the issue before you can take legal action.
If you feel comfortable you can write to the service provider yourself. If you need support with this the services in step 3 can help.
When you write your letter make sure to include what you want them to do. You can ask for things like:
changing a policy
access to the service you were denied
Step 3: get help from a specialist
If complaining has not helped, or you need support to complain, there are services that can help you.
Contact the Equality Advisory and Support Service. They're equality law and discrimination experts who can:
offer you free advice on your options
help you with accessing mediation or other informal routes
help you find a solicitor to take your case to court
Step 4: if it's still not resolved
Taking legal action could help you get the outcome you need.
There is a 6-month deadline to apply for court action, starting from the date you were discriminated against.
For further information about discrimination
Last updated: 30 March 2022