How to deal with housing discrimination

If you've been discriminated against when renting or buying a home there are organisations that can help. You have rights if you've been discriminated against by a service provider. A service provider can be a:

  • landlord or letting agency

  • council or housing association

  • 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, there are ways to settle issues in court if you need to.

Identifying discrimination

You can be discriminated against over your protected characteristics:

  • your age

  • your sex

  • your disability

  • 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

Direct discrimination happens when you're treated worse than others because of your protected characteristic.

Indirect discrimination

Indirect discrimination happens when a service provider has a rule or policy that discriminates against a certain group.

Victimisation

Victimisation happens when you're treated badly or punished for having complained, or helped someone complain, about discrimination.

Harassment

Harassment happens if you're verbally abused, attacked or made to feel uncomfortable because of a protected characteristic. There are different steps to deal with harassment and housing.

Disability discrimination

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. The Equality and Human Rights Commission has information on the rules on reasonable adjustments.

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

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.

How to resolve housing discrimination

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

  • pictures of no DSS on rental adverts

  • 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:

  • an apology

  • compensation

  • 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 are 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

Other services that can help

You can also contact your local Citizens Advice Bureau or contact Shelter Scotland for advice on housing discrimination.

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.

Get a solicitor to help you with your case. You may be eligible for free legal advice or legal aid to help with the costs of legal action.

For further information about discrimination

Visit the Equality and Human Rights Commission website

Last updated: 30 March 2022

Housing laws differ between Scotland and England.

This content applies to Scotland only.

Get advice if you're in England