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Discrimination in relation to premises

This content applies to England & Wales

The provisions of the Equality Act 2010 that prohibit discrimination when selling, renting or managing residential accommodation.

Part 4 (Premises) of the Equality Act 2010 imposes a duty on people when selling, renting, assigning or managing premises not to unlawfully discriminate against people who have a protected characteristic. This applies to premises in both the public and private sectors.

Protected characteristics

For the purposes of Part 4 of the Act, protected characteristic does not include 'age' or 'marriage and civil partnership' and means only:[1]

  • disability
  • gender reassignment
  • pregnancy or maternity
  • race
  • sex
  • sexual orientation
  • religion or belief.

Discrimination when letting, selling or assigning premises

A person who has the right to 'dispose of' premises (ie sell, rent, or assign) must not unlawfully discriminate against any person on the basis of any of the above protected characteristics by:[2]

  • the terms on which s/he offers to dispose of the premises
  • declining to dispose of the premises, or
  • the way in which s/he treats a person seeking the premises.

With respect to tenancies the right to dispose of premises includes a right to:[3]

  • assign
  • let
  • sub-let
  • grant a licence to occupy.

Harassment and victimisation by the person with a right to dispose are similarly prohibited,[4] as is discrimination, harassment or victimisation by a person whose permission is required for disposal.[5]

In a case where a bed and breakfast owner had a policy of refusing to let double rooms to unmarried couples, this was held to unlawfully discriminate against gay couples.[6]

'No DSS' - refusing to let to benefits claimants

Income and employment status are not protected characteristics, so it would not usually constitute direct discrimination if a landlord refused to let a property to a person just because they relied on welfare benefits to pay their rent.

However, such a refusal may amount to indirect discrimination if benefits claimants are predominantly from protected groups. Note, that even if this is the case, where indirect discrimination is a 'proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim', then it would not be unlawful, eg where a landlord's mortgage lender has imposed a condition not to let to housing benefit claimants. The government's briefing Can private landlords refuse to let to housing benefit claimants? looks at some of these issues.

See the page Equality Act 2010: key concepts for information about direct and indirect discrimination.

Right to rent

The Immigration Act 2014, as amended by the Immigration Act 2016, places a requirement on certain landlords/agents to check the immigration status of prospective tenants and licensees in order to ascertain if they have a 'right to rent'.[7]

A landlord who refuses to let to someone, or who only carries out document checks on persons on the basis of their colour, or ethnic or national origins, will be discriminating on grounds of race. The government has published an anti-discrimination code of practice advising landlords on how to operate checking processes that are non-discriminatory and in accordance with statutory equalities duties.

For more information see the page 'Right to rent' immigration checks.

Discrimination when managing premises

Managers of premises must not discriminate on the basis of any of the above protected characteristics against a person who occupies premises by:[8]

  • allowing or prohibiting the use by that person of any benefit or facility
  • evicting (or taking steps for the purpose of securing the eviction of) that person
  • subjecting that person to any other detriment.

The term 'manager of premises' is not defined in the Act but is likely to include both landlords (private and public) and their agents.

Eviction in this context includes the entire repossession process from the serving of notice to issuing court proceedings. See also the Disability discrimination defences page for more information on possible defences in possession proceedings.

Similar provisions are made in respect of both harassment and victimisation.[9]

Adjustments for disabled people

If requested to do so by (or on behalf of) a disabled person put at a substantial disadvantage, a landlord must:[10]

  • make reasonable adjustments to a provision, criterion or practice
  • make reasonable adjustments to a physical feature
  • provide an auxiliary aid
  • consent to the making of disability-related improvements to rented residential premises by the tenant unless the request is unreasonable.[11]

What is 'reasonable' will depend on the particular circumstances relating to each individual request.

See the Disabled people: discrimination and human rights page for more about discrimination against disabled people.

Auxiliary aids

An auxiliary aid (or service) may be provided as a result of:[12]

  • removing, replacing or providing any furniture, furnishings, materials, equipment or other chattels
  • replacing taps or door handles
  • replacing or providing any signs or notices
  • replacing, providing or adapting a doorbell or door entry system
  • changing the colour of, for example, a wall or door.

Exceptions

An owner occupier who sells her/his home privately (ie does not advertise the sale or use an estate agent) can only unlawfully discriminate on grounds of race.[13]

The duty to make reasonable adjustments does not apply to a person who rents a property that was her/his principal home, unless s/he employed a professional manager (such as an estate agent) to manage the letting.[14]

There are also further exceptions in relation to small premises in which the owner or landlord, or a relative of the owner or landlord, resides.[15] Premises are small if:

  • the only other people occupying the accommodation are members of the same household
  • the premises also include accommodation which is let, or is available to let, to at least one other household
  • the premises are not normally sufficient to accommodate more than two other households
  • the premises are not normally sufficient to provide residential accommodation for more than six persons (in addition to the owner/landlord or her/his relative).

Some examples about how the reasonable adjustment provisions may operate in practice are given in the Explanatory Notes to the Equality Act 2010.[16]

[1] s.32(1) Equality Act 2010.

[2] s.33(1) Equality Act 2010.

[3] s.38 Equality Act 2010.

[4] ss.33(3) and (4) Equality Act 2010.

[5] s.34 Equality Act 2010.

[6] Black and Morgan v Wilkinson [2013] EWCA Civ 820.

[7] ss.20 to 37 Immigration Act 2014 as amended with effect from 1 December 2016 by ss.39 to 41 Immigration Act 2016

[8] s.35(1) Equality Act 2010.

[9] ss.35(2) and (3) Equality Act 2010.

[10] s.20(2) and Sch 4 and 5 Equality Act 2010.

[11] s.190 and Sch. 21 Equality Act 2010.

[12] reg 8 Equality Act 2010 (Disability) Regulations 2010 SI 2010/2128.

[13] Ch.7.30 Equality Act 2010 Code of Practice - Services, Public Functions and Associations Statutory Code of Practice, ECHR, 2011.

[14] Sch.5 paras 1 and 2 Equality Act 2010.

[15] Sch.5 para 3 Equality Act 2010.

[16] Explanatory Notes 764 Equality Act 2010. For examples of the exceptions see Explanatory Notes 773 Equality Act 2010.

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