If you have been refused housing by a council, housing association or private landlord but believe that you should not have been, the decision may count as unlawful discrimination and could be overturned. You may be able to challenge the refusal by making use of your rights to have your case reviewed (looked at again by the decision-maker) or appealed (where it is reconsidered by an independent panel) or by using the courts. This page deals with how to challenge such discrimination. There is more detail on the law in the page on what is 'discrimination' in housing?
Discrimination happens when you are treated less favourably than another person in the same situation, on the grounds of race, which includes nationality and ethnicity. For example, you may be refused a service (such as a letting for a house) which is provided to others. Discrimination can occur when you are treated less favourably because the person doing it wrongly thinks you are of a particular nationality or ethnicity. Discrimination can also occur when a service is offered in a way that puts people of certain national, racial or ethnic groups at a disadvantage compared to others, without any proper reason for this. Discrimination on the grounds of race is unlawful in the UK. It is also unlawful to discriminate on other grounds such as gender, disability, sexual orientation, religion or belief and transgender status.
Examples of discrimination might be:
- a homeless persons unit refusing an application from a European worker, e.g. because they have not read the regulations on eligibility properly
- a black family being refused accommodation because they are believed to be migrants from Africa when in fact they have British citizenship
- a private landlord telling someone who looks non-British that a house or flat has been 'let' but afterwards giving it to someone who looks British, e.g. because the landlord wants to avoid checking a person's immigration documents.
If you believe that you have been discriminated against, it is important to get all the information you can about what has happened and to act quickly.
- ask for any decisions to be in writing
- get the names and job titles of the people involved
- make a careful record of what has happened – including what was said, by whom, with dates and times
- think about why you have been discriminated against and on what grounds, for example was there another person of different nationaility who was treated more favourably?
First, it is important to explain that you believe that you have been discriminated against and ask to speak to a manager or supervisor to try to resolve the problem.
If this does not help, get advice. The Equality Advisory Support Service can offer telephone advice about what to do if you have suffered discrimination. The government also publishes a helpful leaflet about how to deal with discrimination in housing and other services.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) provides information and guidance for people who believe they may have suffered discrimination, although in most cases the EHRC cannot give detailed advice on individual complaints. The EHRC can carry out general investigations; it can also carry out an investigation if it suspects that discrimination has occurred and can take a range of steps to bring to an end any discrimination it finds. You may be able to get legal advice about discrimination from a solicitor through Civil Legal Advice or a law centre, but you must emphasise that your complaint is about discrimination (not primarily about housing) as you may then be able to get free advice. You can find your nearest law centre here.
There is a time limit of six months on starting legal action against racial discrimination (time limits for other types of legal action may be much shorter, so you should never delay in getting advice if you think you may need to do this), but it may take some time for the case to come to the county court where it will be heard. If you win, the court may order the discrimination to end and the people who discriminated against you to pay compensation for any losses and a sum for injury to feelings. You may be made an offer to settle the case before it gets to court.