Is your business inadvertently discriminating against customers?

Scales of JusticeIn a recent case, the Supreme Court found in favour of a wheelchair user in a claim against a bus company which had not made reasonable adjustments to prevent disabled passengers being disadvantaged when travelling by bus. The case is a useful reminder to service providers generally about the extent of their responsibility to ensure disabled people are not disadvantaged when accessing services, and the importance of staff training.

The case concerned a bus passenger with a pushchair who refused to give up a wheelchair space for a wheelchair user, Mr Paulley, despite the driver’s request. This meant Mr Paulley could not board the bus. 

The Supreme Court held that the driver should have done more than simply request that the bus passenger vacate the space.  Instead, the driver should have considered taking further steps to enable Mr Paulley to travel, for instance, speaking to the mother with the pushchair and requiring her to move, as opposed to simply requesting it.

The case is a useful reminder of the far-reaching implications of the Equality Act 2010 for service providers. This article, from property lawyer Cathy Allen, summarises the key provisions of the Equality Act 2010 and, in particular, how they affect property owners and occupiers.

The Equality Act consolidated the prior anti-discrimination laws. It introduced various protected characteristics, such as age, disability, sex, race, religion and sexual orientation and prohibited discrimination on the basis of these characteristics.

So far as property owners and occupiers are concerned, their key duties under the Equality Act 2010 are as follows:

  • When disposing of property (for instance, by a sale or lease), a person must not discriminate against another prospective party (for instance, a prospective buyer or tenant) in relation to the terms of the disposal.
  • Landlords or others giving consent to a disposal must not discriminate against another person by refusing consent for the disposal.
  • Managers of premises must not discriminate against an occupier in terms of what facilities or benefits are made available or by otherwise treating the occupier unfavourably.
  • Service providers (e.g. the owners of pubs, bars, shops and restaurants) must not discriminate against a person by not providing a service to that person, or discriminate against someone by offering less favourable terms in relation to the service being provided or by subjecting the customer to any other detriment.
  • Service providers must make reasonable adjustments so that a disabled person is not put at a substantial disadvantage in accessing the service - for instance, providing handrails, automatic doors or low level toilet and hand washing facilities.
  • Property owners must also make reasonable adjustments in certain circumstances to assist disabled people.  For instance, a landlord or manager of commercial or residential property may have to make reasonable adjustments in response to a request by the tenant. 
  • Similarly, landlords or managers may have to make reasonable adjustments to a commercial or residential property in response to a request from a disabled person who is considering taking a lease of that property.

The Equality Act 2010 also imposes a duty on landlords to make reasonable adjustments to common parts in a building containing residential units.  However, this duty is not yet in force. 

In summary, to avoid accusations of discrimination and potential claims, property owners and service providers need to be mindful of the duties contained in the Equality Act 2010, should ensure that their policies are compliant and that staff understand how to enforce those policies. 

Expert legal advice on contentious property or employment law

For advice on any contentious property matter, please contact Associate Solicitor Cathy Allen on 01323 435 900 or .

For advice on any employment matter, please contact Partner Paul Maynard on 01323 435 900 or paul.maynard@gabyhardwicke.co.uk.

Posted: 15 February 2017

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