LANDLORDS and estate agents that refuse housing to tenants because they are on benefits may be acting unlawfully, it has been claimed. Glasgow-based public law firm Legal Services Agency (LSA) is calling for an end to landlords’ “discriminatory” no DSS (Department for Social Security) policies.

The law agency is holding an open meeting for both disabled tenants and women this week, inspired by the success of Rosie Keogh, who found herself unable to rent a new property in Birmingham when a lettings agent rejected her application because she was receiving housing benefit. The cleaner and former legal worker took the agency to court last year and won.

Now Scottish lawyers claim that other tenants could be able to take similar action. According to Shelter, almost half of all private landlords across the UK have an outright ban on letting to people on benefits.

Ben Christman of LSA, who is organising Tuesday’s meeting, said: “Many of our clients indicate they had difficulty finding private lets for various reasons, one of which was lack of options where they can be on housing benefit.

“Our view is that no DSS policies amount to indirect discrimination under the Equality Act 2010, because of their disproportionate effects on women and disabled people.

“We are seeking clients who have been affected to challenge no DSS in the courts. A successful case would bring publicity to the issue and could put an end to the practice. The LSA is interested in tackling discrimination and considers there is an unmet legal need in this area. We also want people to have access to more suitable housing. No DSS is a barrier to this.”

Last June, Shelter Scotland research highlighted strong evidence that no DSS policies were a significant issue for private renters in Scotland, with tenants interviewed calling for a blanket ban on the policies. Other recommendations included reversing UK Government welfare reforms which have reduced the level of housing benefit paid to private tenants.

Some landlords told researchers that they refused to let to people on benefits because their mortgage lender or letting agent forbids it.

READ MORE: Number of Scots struggling with housing costs rises by a third

Graeme Brown, director of Shelter Scotland, told the Sunday National: “Our research has found there has been a hardening of attitudes against letting to people who need housing benefit to pay their rent, partly driven by the cuts to welfare benefits and a fear that they would no longer be able to afford to pay.

“Tenants told us they would like to see a ban on blanket discrimination and for the UK Government to ensure local housing allowance keeps pace with the cost of rent.

“We are already seeing some positive developments following a campaign and legal action by our colleagues at Shelter in England. One woman has already been awarded compensation after she successfully argued that blanket bans on benefit claimants indirectly discriminated against women, especially single women.

“Last month two mortgage lenders – NatWest and Nationwide – confirmed they would no longer have this policy as part of their buy-to-let protects,” added Brown. “Meanwhile Zoopla, one of the largest online property advertising platforms, has now banned no DSS rules in listings on its site.”

The National: John Paul has described his housing situation as a 'nightmare'John Paul has described his housing situation as a 'nightmare'

However, John Paul, 31, who receives employment support allowance and personal independence payments due to mental health difficulties which mean he is unable to work, said the struggle for Scots had not abated.

He sought to leave a Wellhouse housing association flat after being charged – along with other tenants – for repairs that should have been covered by his rent. The “disturbing failings” – which included staff being given additional payments from tenants’ rent – were condemned by the Housing Regulator. But because he was on benefits it took almost two years to secure a new flat.

He said: “I tried countless flats I found on sites like Right Move and from letting agencies, well-known high street names and independent ones too.

“There was one in particular that said they could help as long as we had a deposit and the full month’s rent but they didn’t find us anything and stopped replying to our messages.”

While some landlords simply refused to take anyone on benefits, others said they would accept him if he had a guarantor.

“But I grew-up in foster care and I don’t have anyone who can do that,” he said. “There is literally no one that could do that for me. It was incredibly stressful. Really it was a nightmare.”

There is no happy ending in sight yet. He’s in a one-bedroom flat where, despite paying £325 a month, the boiler has packed in four times. It also took months for a leak to be fixed and there is mould in the bedroom, which he claims has given him a chest infection. What’s more, it turns out he’s been paying for two electricity metres rather than one, clocking up bills of £170 a month.

The stress of the process has increased John Paul’s anxiety and he’s now calling for action. “So much needs done to make sure people get decent housing,” he said.