The Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007 which outlaw discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation came into force at the end of April. Many people will have seen stories about this in the news media with regard to adoption agencies operated by the Catholic Church. However, it may not have been so clear that the same regulations also apply to the disposal of premises, including sales and lettings
The regulations define discrimination as the less favourable treatment of one person by another on the grounds of the sexual orientation, real or imagined, of that person or any other person. Regulation 5 specifically forbids the discrimination against any individual on the grounds of sexual orientation in regard to disposal of property, whether by sale or by letting.
This prohibition also extends to discrimination against the provision of a service to a tenant or occupier. Agents should note that the regulations apply equally to them just as much as they do to landlords.
There are some exceptions to the regulations. Resident landlords can discriminate over who they share their house with and individuals selling their home can also discriminate provided neither is using a lettings or estate agent to assist them. The other major exception, as many people will be aware from the news media relates to religious organisations who will continue to be free to discriminate on the grounds of sexual orientation where that corresponds with their religious beliefs. It will therefore continue to be legal for religious bodies to decline to let property to same sex couples.
In most cases these regulations should have little impact on lettings agents. Few Agents or landlords discriminate against individuals on the grounds of their sexual orientation and those that do are usually religious organizations who will be free to continue doing so. Agents may have to take care of the occasional landlord who objects to letting property to individuals on the grounds of their sexuality and they will now need to treat these requests as they would an attempt by a landlord to discriminate against a prospective tenant on the grounds of race.
Where someone believes they have been discriminated against they can serve a notice on the person they believe has discriminated against them asking that information is provided. This can be done on a standard form within six months of the occurrence of the alleged discrimination. If such a form is served then the person receiving it should reply within 8 weeks. A standard form is also available for this purpose.
If the reply is not forthcoming inside 8 weeks or is evasive then the Court is entitled to draw inferences from that such as the inference that discrimination has occurred. Claims of unlawful discrimination must be brought within six months of the action complained about and should be brought in the County Court. The normal penalty is compensation to the Claimant. Landlords and Agents should familiarise themselves with the question and response forms so that they are able to answer queries promptly and clearly. While the financial penalties are likely to be slight the negative publicity and embarrassment resulting from a claim being proven could be substantial
Further guidance, which includes the standard forms requesting further information and responding to such a request, is also available from the DCLG and can be found on their website at www.communities.gov.uk/
Dr David Smith is a trainee solicitor with PainSmith Solicitors, a niche practice specialising in residential landlord and tenant law. PainSmith Solicitors Legal Updates are provided for information only and are not legal advice. If you do have a legal problem, you should talk to a lawyer or adviser before making a decision about what to do. You may wish to use the CLS/CDS Directory (www.justask.org.uk/public/en/directory) to locate an adviser. The information provided here is written for people resident in, or affected by, the laws of England and Wales only. You should note that date given in the update and be aware that the information given may become inaccurate due to changes in the law or its implementation. .
Information supplied by PainSmith Solicitors who are a niche practice specialising in Landlord and Tenant Law. Based in Medstead in Hampshire, they are ideally situated to provide an efficient service to clients nationwide as well as those based in Central London and the Home Counties.