“The following are not acceptable: · No single mums or single fathers… · No battered wives….”
“No coloured people because of the curry smell at the end of the tenancy”
At first glance, you might think this is the kind of sign we would gawp at in a museum, while congratulating ourselves collectively about how much has changed in the UK since the 1960s.
But you would be wrong.
It was, in fact, written by Fergus Wilson in 2017 by way of an instruction to a letting agent responsible for letting out his properties in Kent (of which there are over 1000).
Worryingly, Wilson does not seem to be a lone discriminator or a relic from a Britain of decades ago. Indeed, during a BBC undercover investigation in 2013 one lettings manager was filmed saying “99% of my landlords don’t want Afro-Caribbeans”.
Wilson, along with his wife, Judith Wilson, is worth around £100 million and seems to think that this entitles him to exclude people from renting his properties because of their race, amongst other ‘criteria’.
Just some of the other groups Wilson excludes from his properties include low income or zero hour workers, single adults and plumbers.
Is any of this this legal?
Let me be clear: where the exclusion criteria relates to race and sex, it is not only morally abhorrent; it is entirely unlawful.
Under the Equality Act 2010, it’s unlawful to refuse to rent a property on the basis of the tenant’s race. Pretty cut and dried then.
Further, the Equality Act 2010 prohibits the indirect discrimination as a result of a “protected characteristic”; of which sex is one. ‘Battered wives’ (or other victims of domestic violence, which presumably Wilson would also exclude as tenants) are predominantly women as are single parents. Under the Act, Wilson cannot refuse them accommodation on this basis unless he can objectively justify this decision. I’m pretty sure he can’t.
Some of the other exclusion criteria, i.e. no zero hour workers, may not be unlawful, but they are symptomatic of the problems associated with allowing the power of a property tycoon like Wilson to go entirely unchecked. As a result of a desperate lack of affordable housing, the all-but-eradication of social housing and a lack of regulation of private sector rentals, tenants are becoming increasingly vulnerable. It also seems that zero hour contracts and the ‘gig’ economy working model are not only disastrous for workers’ security but also for security in their homes; illustrated with perfection by Wilson’s exclusion of ‘zero hours’ workers.
Further, when looked at as part of the bigger picture of available accommodation, Wilson’s blatant race and sex discrimination does not necessarily only deny people accommodation in respect of his properties but may be denying people a place to live altogether.
These discriminatory policies won’t change unless they are challenged; the power large-scale landlords hold is just too great. And, ultimately, they are an affront to us all.