Disabled people’s access needs received a boost this week when RBS lost the argument over whether it should or should not improve access for a wheelchair using customer. Also in the news the EHRC is under fire yet again this time because of an apparent u-turn by the government.
RBS loses loses appeal over ‘landmark’ access ruling
A bank will have to install a lift at a city centre branch after a disabled customer won an appeal court victory in a landmark discrimination case.
The Royal Bank of Scotland will have to carry out the building work – at an estimated cost of £200,000 – in order to make its Sheffield city centre branch accessible to wheelchair-users.
The case was brought by teenager David Allen, an electric wheelchair-user, who could not access the branch because the entrance was at the top of four steps.
Allen was forced to discuss personal details about his account in the street outside the branch.
Lord Justice Wall, one of the three court of appeal judges, said there were “reasonable steps” the bank could have taken to make the branch accessible.
He added: “The bank did not take those steps, giving as its reason, not the disproportionate cost of carrying out the work, but simply the fact that it would lose the use of an interview room.”
The bank had appealed against a decision by Sheffield county court in January that it had breached the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) – the first time an injunction had been granted ordering work to be carried out to make business premises accessible.
The county court had rejected the argument that Allen should use internet banking instead, ruling that it was not the same service.
Sheffield Law Centre, which helped Allen bring the case, with funding from the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said the appeal court judgement stressed that services for disabled people must be as close as possible to those provided to the general public.
Allen’s compensation of £6,500 was the highest awarded for a failure to make reasonable adjustments under part three of the DDA, which relates to goods and services.
Allen was awarded an extra £3,000 compensation for ongoing discrimination, as the lift will not be installed until August 2010 – the total award of £9,500 is now the largest by a court under part three of the DDA.
After the judgement, Allen said: “I’m glad the bank finally had to apologise in court and acknowledge they treated me badly.”
But he added: “They just failed to understand anything about the need for privacy and dignity.”
Douglas Johnson, of Sheffield Law Centre, said the judgement would “make it easier and simpler” for courts to deal with complaints of disability discrimination.
He added: “The real access issue is about people and attitudes, not ramps and steps.”
Mystery over appointment of equality watchdog commissioners
The government has been unable to explain why it has performed a U-turn on cutting the number of commissioners appointed to the board of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).
Last week, the Government Equalities Office (GEO) announced the names of eight new commissioners, and two reappointed commissioners.
They will join five other EHRC board members who did not have to seek re-appointment, including the chair, Trevor Phillips.
But in July, the GEO said the number of commissioners would be cut from 15 to a maximum of 10 to “reflect a more streamlined and cost-effective board focused on delivering the equality bill”.
This week, a GEO spokesman insisted the U-turn was due to the “strong and impressive” field of more than 600 applicants.
He said: “In the summer we said that the board would be restructured with a new focus on delivery, and to ensure the commission has the right mix of skills for the next phase.
“Our priority was to ensure the recruitment of the best possible field of commissioners, bearing in mind our stated need for the board to be more tightly focused on delivery, with the right mix of skills, covering all the equality strands and more business expertise.”
But he said the strength of applicants allowed the GEO to appoint a “very strong board” who would “join the existing commissioners to create a stronger team to take forward the EHRC and help put the flesh on the bones of the equality bill”.
Meanwhile, the EHRC has announced the names of 61 community and voluntary organisations that will receive nearly £10 million in grants, as part of its strategic funding programme.
Several disabled people’s organisations secured large grants to develop advice, guidance and advocacy services.
They include Breakthrough UK, which secured £140,000; Darlington Association on Disability, which will receive £210,000; £150,000 for Disability Action Waltham Forest; and £300,000 for Disability Hackney.
Other recipients include Glasgow Disability Alliance, which secured £225,565 to develop the “next generation of disabled leaders”, in conjunction with Glasgow Centre for Inclusive Living; and Living Options Devon, which has been given £351,306 to test a new, Deaf-led, rural advocacy, information and peer support service.
News provided by John Pring at firstname.lastname@example.org