Sanctuary Housing Cuts Rent Of Black Tenant Who Found She Was Charged More Than White Neighbour

The housing association has reduced Selma Nicholls' rent while it investigates the disparity and tests for bias.
Selma Nicholls
Selma Nicholls

A housing association that had charged a Black woman £30,000 more rent than her white neighbour over four years has urgently reduced her payments and launched an investigation.

HuffPost UK revealed earlier this month that Selma Nicholls was being charged a completely different rate for an identical property in north London by Sanctuary Housing.

Nicholls had been paying £1,000 a month more in rent than her neighbour, since August 2018, and was paying £500 a month more for the year before that.

Both Nicholls, 40, and her neighbour believed race was a key factor in the case as they had both applied for the same rent reduction with similar circumstances – yet only the neighbour had received it.

Sanctuary Housing denied it discriminated against Nicholls, but has now pledged to carry out an internal investigation into the history of the case and the actions taken by its staff members.

The housing association has met with a consultancy that specialises in inclusion, diversity and equality, HuffPost UK understands.

With immediate effect they will reduce Nicholls’ rent to her neighbour’s rate for a three-month period while the investigation is under way.

In addition Sanctuary Housing has pledged to commission an external independent review to test for discrimination or unconscious bias within its organisation. Both probes are to be concluded by October.

Nicholls – who runs a diverse talent agency called Looks Like Me – is calling for an “honest” explanation from Sanctuary about the rent disparity and compensation for the £30,000 difference.

The tenant told HuffPost UK that she is looking forward to a positive outcome.

“I feel empowered and exhausted; I am hopeful that the outcome will be fair and I can experience the same level of support and privilege that my neighbour has been offered,” Nicholls said.

“Sharing my housing complaint publicly has started a positive conversation with Sanctuary housing charity. I felt a duty of care to those in a similar position that may have less of a voice than I have.

“I am overwhelmed by the online care and support through tweets, posts on LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook and the power of unity through word of mouth. I am grateful for the love and support from everyone that believes in housing equality and fairness.

“I’ve experienced incredible solidarity and protection through being open about how this unfair practice has affected my wellbeing.”

A spokesperson for Sanctuary Housing told HuffPost UK: “While we have found no evidence that discrimination or even unconscious bias played a part in the letting or management of these leases, we want to be absolutely sure. We are investing in an independent, external case review to provide certainty and to give Ms Nicholls and all of our customers and stakeholders complete confidence in our practices, motives and values.

“We are currently selecting the organisation or individual to carry out the review and we have invited Ms Nicholls to be directly involved in the review process.

“We are committed to putting in place any recommendations following this review. In the meantime, we have reduced the rent Ms Nicholls pays to align it with the neighbouring property.”