New initiative to address discrimination in housing

Increased awareness of equality law among lawyers and housing advisors will help tackle the discrimination faced by some groups of people at risk of eviction or homelessness, a conference in Glasgow will hear today.

The Equality Act 2010 protects people such as those with disabilities from discrimination.

Scotland’s Equality Law and Housing Conference’, organised by Shelter Scotland and funded by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, will show legal and housing professionals from across Scotland how equality and human rights legislation relates to housing and homelessness.

Shelter Scotland says there is not full appreciation as to how equality legislation affects housing entitlement. A key aim of the conference is to increase the level of understanding on how equality law impacts on housing rights among frontline advisers as well as lawyers.

The housing and homelessness charity says too many people are slipping through the net because they don’t know their rights and the people they turn to for help may not appreciate the importance of the Equality Act to their housing case.

Fiona McPhail, Shelter Scotland’s principal solicitor, said: “Equalities legislation complements the existing housing rights people have, recognising that additional protection is required for certain categories of persons. At Shelter Scotland, we too often see clients who are homeless and also disabled, placed in temporary accommodation which is not suitable for them. We have also represented 100s of clients who risk losing their home because they are in debt.

“In many of those cases we discover that there are serious mental health issues affecting that client’s ability to navigate what is an increasingly challenging benefits system. The courts have repeatedly stated that one of the aims of the Equality Act is to create a culture of greater awareness of the legal consequences of disabilities for example. The Equality Act may also impact the delivery of services and policies that a local authority or housing association may have in relation to how it delivers homeless services or allocates housing.

“We hope that this conference raises awareness within the profession as to when the Equality Act 2010 might apply to a housing issue and when legal advice should be sought. With increased knowledge and understanding of these issues you would expect to see better housing conditions and protection for some of society’s most vulnerable people.”

Conference delegates will be presented with a specially written book for lawyers and specialist advisers - ‘Housing and Equality Law in Scotland’ - and an online training course for frontline support organisations has also been published.

‘Scotland’s Equality Law and Housing Conference’ is part of a wider commissioned project which considers how equality legislation can play an important part in a housing and homelessness context in Scotland.

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