The Equality Act came into force in 2010 and in so doing it replaced the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) and other anti discrimination legislation. The DDA was the first real anti disability discrimination legislation in this country and the Equality Act picked up where the DDA left off. The Equality Act 2010 also established the Equality & Human Rights Commission, (the EHRC). The EHRC took over the work of the Disability Rights Commission, the Race Relations Commission & the Equal Opportunities Commission & overnight it became the organisation responsible for enforcing the Equality Act.
Why The Equality Act 2010 is important
The Equality Act lists protected characteristics – groups of people – who should be free from less favourable treatment and also defines discrimination. So, the Equality Act 2010 provides for everybody living in the UK to be entitled to the same level of service and to live and work free of discrimination and irrespective of characteristics.
Disability is one of those protected characteristics and the Equality Act provides people living in the UK with a disability with the means to enforce their rights where they feel these have been compromised or where they feel they have been treated less favourably because of a disability.
It also suggests how reasonable adjustments should be made by service providers to accommodate people with a disability. Even more important, is that the responsibility on service providers to make reasonable adjustments, is an anticipatory – not a reactionary – one.
However, seven years after the legislation was introduced, many service providers are still failing to make reasonable adjustments necessary to accommodate the needs of people with a disability whilst simultaneously many individuals continue to make little or no complaint about service provision; despite their legal right to do so.
While making official complaints and even taking on a court case can seem daunting to many, (particularly to those that already experience day to day difficulties living with a disability) confronting discrimination and doing something about it is important.
Making an effective complaint can result in an apology, damages for upset or embarrassment and achieving change that in turn improves services for others.
Complaints also raise awareness amongst service providers of their responsibility under the law as well as ensuring wheelchair access is provided for others in the future.
Enforcing The Equality Act 2010
If you’re already feeling overwhelmed by the prospect of standing up for your rights with The Equality Act 2010, here are some tips.
1) Think about what you want to achieve! In many cases you might find you can handle the situation outside of court providing the service provider is cooperative. For example, often you simply want to achieve access where there was no reasonable access before. In this case wheelchair access is the goal rather than damages for any ill feeling from the situation and this could perhaps be achieved by having a quiet word or entering into correspondence with a service provider.
2) If that approach is unsuccessful, consider making a formal complaint before considering legal action. In a written letter, you should outline the situation clearly, including the problem, the solution you would like to see achieved, and details of how the Equality Act 2010 supports your complaint and the solution you are seeking.
3) Be timely with your complaint letters both in and out of court. There is a six-month limitations period for you to start court proceedings, and this time begins from the date of alleged discrimination. As a rule of thumb, make sure you write and send your letter within seven days, and ask for a reply within another seven days.
4) Go online to the court website and do your research about the court process. There is lots of information online and the court process has been simplified over the years so people can take control of their own court cases. Look at the Gov.UKwebsite at gov.uk/discrimination-your-rights
5) When you proceed with your court case you will be asked for evidence and witness statements. This gives you the opportunity to detail your case, so write things down carefully.
6) Remember the new clause in the Equality Act of “discrimination by association”. Friends and family with you at the time of discrimination may also have been discriminated against, as they are unlikely to use the service without you.
7) Make sure your claim stays in the small claims track at court. This means you won’t have to pay your opponents legal fees; even if you lose your case, but it also means you will not have your legal costs reimbursed if you employ a solicitor.
8) Make sure that you consider whether you can afford to lose the costs of your case if you are unsuccessful.
Currently, these include:
- The payment of a court issue fee, (approx £200.00 depending on value)
- The court hearing fee (approx £330.00 depending on value)
If you are successful, you can ask the court to reimburse these court costs you have paid out (as well as any other expenses).
9) While a court can rule a service provider has been discriminatory and award damages to claimants, in most cases a court cannot enforce reasonable adjustments. This means that – unless an injunction is requested and awarded – service providers cannot be made to make their service wheelchair accessible even after judgment is entered against them.
Fortunately, it is often easy for service providers to make reasonable adjustments without incurring significant costs.
For example, temporary ramps to provide wheelchair access at entrances and thresholds are an inexpensive and easy solution that requires minimum adjustment and set up.
Often simply pointing service providers in the direction of a reasonable ramp supplier and informing them of their responsibilities can be enough to achieve the reasonable adjustments needed.
For more information, see the range of portable ramps that are available from The Ramp People on our website.
Contact us at The Ramp People for advice about which portable ramps might be most suitable and for guidance on how the ramp should be used safely.
For more information generally about the Equality Act and how to enforce your rights using the legislation, look at the website of the Equality and Human Rights Commission at www.equalityhumanrights.com/en/equality-act/equality-act-2010