Housing and Disability: Your Rights

It can be hard finding accessible housing and even harder securing it. To celebrate Housing Week, your VP Wellbeing & Diversity has put together this blog to try and help you understand your rights and how to access support if you need it.

It can be hard finding accessible housing and even harder securing it. I’ve put together this blog to try and help you understand your rights and access help if you need it.

What the Law Says

The Equality Act of 2010 means that if you have a condition or impairment that has lasted for at least 12 months, will continue to be long-lasting and affects your function on a daily basis, you are protected against discrimination – this means that you cannot be discriminated against or treated unfairly because you are disabled.

A private landlord cannot reject your application to rent a home because you are disabled or receiving benefits. Disabled people have the same right to access housing as non-disabled people do. Therefore the landlord cannot:

  • Stop you from renting a home
  • Charge you more
  • Ask for a higher deposit
  • Give you a worse contract or service
  • Refuse help
  • Threaten you purely on the basis of your disability as this is unlawful

It is worth noting here that direct, indirect, and associative discrimination all count!

The Equality Act also means that you cannot be evicted because you have asked for adjustments to be made to the property as this is victimisation.

The Different Types of Housing

Private Housing  

Private renting is when your landlord is an individual or a private company. Key things to consider in the private housing sector:

Positives

  • There are lots of homes available to rent privately. That gives you a good chance of finding a home where you want to live, e.g. near to your family and friends, schools, work, or health facilities.
  • You will usually be able to find a property more quickly: this is helpful if you need to move to a new area to start a course or a job, or you need a place temporarily while you wait for social housing or save up to buy a property. If you are homeless, the council may well place you in a private rented property at least temporarily, or even permanently.

Negatives

  • The rent is likely to be higher than in the social rented sector.
  • If you are entitled to either Housing Benefit or the housing element of Universal Credit, you can use this to pay your rent; however, it may not cover the full cost.
  • It can be more difficult (but is sometimes possible) to make changes to private rented property so that it meets your needs.
  • There is less ‘security of tenure’ – in other words, it is easier for your landlord to ask you to move out, even if you have been a good tenant.

Social Housing:

Social housing is owned by a housing association (Registered Provider), a council (local authority), or a housing cooperative/charity. It is intended for people on low incomes and is usually rented to them; though some housing associations also offer shared ownership (part-rent, part-buy) properties. Unlike private landlords, housing associations are not profit-making; they must use any surplus money they make to maintain existing homes and build new ones.

Positives

  • Cheaper rent
  • More ‘security of tenure'. A social landlord cannot make you leave the property as easily as a private landlord can, and only if you have failed to meet your responsibilities as a tenant, which should be set out clearly at the start of your tenancy.
  • Generally easier to have adaptations made to a social rented property than a private rented property.

Negatives

  • In many parts of the country, there is a shortage of social rented properties – especially those that are wheelchair-accessible and/or with rent levels, which can be covered in full by those eligible for housing benefits. It can be extremely difficult within the current system to find a property that meets your needs.

In many areas, most – if not all – housing associations and any remaining council properties are let through a ‘Common Housing Register’. This is a single point of access for social rented properties, so you do not have to approach each provider separately. You can find out about how this works in your area online or in person through your council’s housing options team or advice centre. You can enter a postcode to find the local authority covering your area on their website.

Councils must allow disabled people or those with health or welfare needs to join the register. Councils may require people to have a strong ‘local connection’. You need to fill in a form to apply to join the Common Housing Register – sometimes this is online, sometimes in person, or often you can choose. If you need help to fill in the form, due to access or communication needs, the council should provide this. Libraries can also often offer assistance and online access. You must make sure the information on your application is kept up to date if there are changes to your household or current housing circumstances, or if a medical condition worsens, for example.

Making Adjustments and Adaptations

The landlord or property manager has the duty to make reasonable adjustments if you’re a tenant, sub-tenant, a leaseholder, or part of a commonhold, and you directly ask them to make a change and if the change is deemed ‘reasonable’.

These adjustments can be made to policies, practices, and terms of your agreement (meaning a term in your tenancy agreement, or the way a landlord does things e.g. how they collect rent) and they can also provide extra equipment or support (auxiliary aids) to make it easier for you to live in that property with your disability.

Changes can be made to furniture, furnishings, materials, or equipment. Some examples of what the landlord can change are:

  • Replacing or providing signs or notices
  • Replacing taps or door handles
  • Replacing, providing, or adapting your doorbell or door entry system
  • Changing the colour of a wall, door, or any other surface

The landlord may also have to provide all information in an accessible format – e.g. converting documents into Braille.

For changes to be agreed you have to evidence that the disadvantage is substantial – you need to show that your enjoyment of the premises or the use of a benefit or facility which you get under the tenancy is being affected. For example, being able to access and use a garage that’s also let with the property, or being able to live in the property comfortably without disturbance. You’ll need to show that someone without a disability wouldn’t be affected, or would be affected less than you, by the particular rule or lack of equipment or support.

You will also need to check that the adjustments you have asked for are reasonable. Here are some questions to help you decide if it is or not:

  • If a particular adjustment would prevent the disadvantage for you - the more likely it is to do that, the more likely it is to be reasonable.
  • How long you’re likely to be in the property compared to the cost and disruption of the adjustment.
  • How much it will cost - a local authority might be able to spend more than a private landlord with only one property.
  • How difficult it will be for the landlord, property manager, or controller to make the adjustment.
  • How difficult it will be to undo the adjustment when you leave the home.

What is not covered – anything that involves removing or altering a physical feature – e.g. structural changes, removing walls, widening doorways, or installing permanent ramps.

You may not be able to make changes if your tenancy is statutory, protected, or secure as classified under the Rent Act 1977. If you are unsure what tenancy agreement you have, you can check with your local Citizens Advice Bureau.

It is important to note that if you do make changes to the property without your landlord’s permission, you could be evicted as you have broken the terms of your lease.

How to Clap Back

The actions of decisions of a landlord are not final. You can challenge them.

If a landlord or letting agent has not given you a reason why they rejected your application to rent, you can ask them to provide one. If their answer falls under discrimination due to your disability, you can challenge this decision.

You can do this by writing an email/letter to your landlord or letting agent. In this letter you may want to include:

  • Details of what happened.
  • The rental advert.
  • Why you think it’s discrimination and what the law says.
  • If you feel they should reconsider your application.
  • If you believe they should change their process. For example, if they do not rent to people receiving benefits.
  • That you expect them to reply within 7 days.

You can contact the Citizens Advice Bureau if you want some help with writing your letter. It’s a good idea to keep a copy of your letter and any other documents you may send.

What a positive response might look like:

The landlord or letting agent may apologise to you, commit to changing their practices, offer to help you find a suitable home.

What a negative response might look like:

You do not receive a reply, the landlord or letting agent disagrees that it was discrimination, the landlord or letting agent refuses to help you or change their practices.

In these cases, you may wish to take legal action. To make a claim you have 6 months since the discrimination that you want to report occurred, after that, it is too late to take legal action.

Before taking legal action, there are a few things you should consider: getting the opinions of your friends and family on the matter, thinking about what outcomes you want, checking what evidence there is to support your case, and looking into getting legal aid.

You can also challenge a landlord’s decision to decline your request for adaptations, take action against them if they agree to make adjustments but then don’t follow through, and if they ignore your request.

Resources and Places for Help

What Else is Happening?

We've got plenty of events running throughout Housing Week! Check out our campaign page for more events and blog posts.