A cleaner and former paralegal successfully argued that blanket bans on benefit claimants indirectly discriminated against women, especially single women.
Rosie Keogh won compensation for sex discrimination from a lettings agency that refused to consider her as a tenant because she was on state benefit.
Rosie’s attempt to rent a property in a smart area of Birmingham in May 2016 was blocked when the lettings agent found she would pay some of the rent via housing benefit.
The agent told her it would not be proceeding with her application for a property in Kings Heath before it had looked into her individual circumstances or assessed how reliable a tenant she would be.
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 Rosie.
“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 in 2017 found that 43% had an outright ban on letting to such claimants. A further 18% preferred not to let to them.
Rosie was supported in her case by Shelter, whose legal officer Rose Arnall said: “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.”
Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, said private renting was so expensive that many people could not get by without housing benefit, even if they were working.
“Our advisers repeatedly hear from desperate mothers battling to find someone willing to let to them, in spite of being able to pay the rent.
“We are urging all landlords and letting agents to get rid of ‘no DSS’ policies, and treat people fairly on a case-by-case basis.”
Chris Norris, head of policy at the National Landlords Association, agreed there was no place for discrimination on the basis of someone’s gender.
“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.”
A government spokesman said: “It’s wrong to treat someone differently because they are claiming a benefit.
“The majority of claimants are comfortable managing their money but we are increasing support to help people who need it to stay on top of their payments.”
He added that from April, people in receipt of housing benefit would receive two weeks’ rent when they moved on to universal credit and landlords could now apply to have the benefit paid directly to them if their tenants were more than two months in arrears.