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Landmark case finds ‘no children’ policies breach letting agent Code of Practice

Posted 21 Mar 2023

  • Property Ombudsman rules out blanket bans on renting to families in discrimination case 

  • Newly published data shows 1 in 5 families barred from renting a home because they have kids   

The Property Ombudsman has determined that blanket bans on renting to families are in breach of its Code of Practice after a mum of four won her landmark case against an estate agent who discriminated against her family.      Supported by Shelter solicitor Rose Arnall, Lexi Levens, an NHS neonatal nurse, succeeded in challenging ‘no kids’ barriers in the private rental market on the grounds that such bans breach equality rules laid out in The Property Ombudsman’s code of practice. This is because such bans disproportionately affect women.    

The Ombudsman’s decision will provide welcome relief to the thousands of private renting families in England impacted by ‘no kids’ discrimination. Shelter’s newly published data shows one in five (19%) parents – equating to almost 300,000 families in England - have been unable to rent somewhere they wanted in the last five years because they have children. 

Going forward, any letting agent who is a member of The Property Ombudsman will not be able to include blanket bans in property listings – or follow a landlord's orders to - without reasonable evidence or justification. If they do, they will be in breach of the body’s Code of Practice and may be required to pay compensation to anyone discriminated against. 

However, Shelter warns that more needs to be done to stamp out discrimination across private renting through the increased regulation of private landlords. The housing charity is urging the government to make its long-promised Renters’ Reform Bill law which would help to make this kind of blanket discrimination directly unlawful.  

Lexi called the discrimination her family faced “nothing short of distressing and humiliating”. 

Lexi Levens, 33, and her family were handed a Section 21 no-fault eviction on Christmas Eve. When looking for a new private rental, Lexi was shocked when no landlords or letting agents would rent to a family with four children. Despite both Lexi and her husband passing affordability checks, they had no choice but to register with the council as homeless.  

Lexi said: “The fact kids could be discriminated against is abhorrent and should never have been able to happen. I couldn’t believe this was happening to me, yet the more I talked about it, the more people came forward saying they’d experienced the same or knew someone who had. 

“My situation was nothing short of distressing and humiliating. Our children were being discriminated against and no one was listening or taking me seriously, so I went to Shelter, and they offered to help me challenge this with The Property Ombudsman.    

“I’m so thrilled by the outcome of the challenge, this has never been about money for me, but about putting a stop to families like mine being treated unfairly. Sadly, there’s still no direct legislation holding landlords to account, which is why the government needs to bring forward the Renter’s Reform Bill which protects the rights of tenants and puts a stop to this type of discrimination, directly. “ 

Rose Arnall, Solicitor at Shelter, said: “No-one should be barred from finding a safe and stable home simply because they have children. Whether you can secure a home must not be based on a landlord or letting agent’s baseless prejudices about the ‘type’ of tenant you might be.  

“Thanks to Lexi’s hard work, letting agents can be crystal clear that blanket bans on renting to families are unacceptable. This is a great step forward in addressing the power imbalance which sees tenants hitting unfair barriers and being forced to jump through ridiculous hoops.” 

Polly Neate, Chief Executive of Shelter, said: “The Property Ombudsman finding that blanket ‘no children’ policies are a breach of the Code of Practice is undeniably an important win for tenants, but there is still more to be done to weed out discrimination in private renting. The government’s Renters’ Reform Bill - which will make discrimination explicitly unlawful – is ready and waiting. The government needs to stop stalling and make it law once and for all.”   

Peter Habert, Director of Policy at The Property Ombudsman said: “Whilst rental properties are investments for landlords, they are homes for tenants. To be excluded from a significant portion of the homes available simply because you have children cannot be considered as treating consumers equally.  

“Prospective tenants should only expect to see these restrictions in property adverts and listings if the property is unsuitable, for example it doesn’t have enough space.  

“Where an agent is involved, if they receive such an instruction from a landlord, they should question this and ask the landlord to evidence the appropriate reason why. This will allow agents to provide an explanation to prospective tenants on an individual basis and ensure they can evidence they have acted correctly should a dispute arise.” 


Notes to editors:

  • Private renting parents who have been unable to rent a home they wanted to comes from a YouGov survey of 2019 private renters in England aged 18+, 627 of whom had children in the household. The survey was conducted online between 6th April – 12th May 2022 and was weighted to be representative of private renters in England. The number of families affected by this – which is 289,506 - has been calculated by Shelter using data from the English Housing Survey.  

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