Provision of services: disputes
This page deals with resolving a complaint if you feel you have been discriminated against as regards provision of services or exercise of public functions.
Solving a discrimination dispute (link to direct.gov.uk);
What to do if you believe you have been discriminated against (link to EHRC website).
Disability Law Service downloads page has factsheets on 'Goods and Services', for example 'Enforcing your Rights as a Disabled Consumer' which includes template letters.
An initial source of advice is the Equality and Human Rights Commission helpline (link to EHRC website).
The main legal remedy is money compensation. Most or all of the compensation may be for 'injury to feelings'. Ross v Ryanair (link to stammeringlaw.org.uk) cited a case saying: "£750 is the least that may now days be awarded for the very slightest injury to feelings, deserving of damages, caused by discrimination on the ground of disability."
In one case the courts also ordered a service provider to take particular steps. The court required the bank to install a lift for wheelchair users. Damages of £6,500 were also awarded: Allen v Royal Bank of Scotland (link to shoosmiths.co.uk), 2009.
Rather than claim compensation, you may see it as more important to make the service provider aware of the problem. You might want a letter of apology, and to know what action they will take to avoid the problem in future. Maybe, for example, more staff training is needed on communication disabilities. Complaints can be useful, they can improve the service.
You could initially contact the service provider informally, perhaps through any complaints system they have. If the initial response is not satisfactory, it may be possible to take it higher within the organisation, or to an outside ombudsman.
You might want to use an advocate to help put your complaint.
Case study: laughing and putting phone down
Television channel Setanta apologised to a football fan with cerebral palsy after a call centre worker laughed at his speech problems and then hung up. In this case a newspaper contacted the TV channel, which took disciplinary action against the call handler and offered the fan a year's free subscription.
'Fan gets apology from Setanta' (link to Manchester Evening News), 6/10/08.
Case study: retraining
A person who stammers rang a public helpline. The lady at the other end laughed at her as she was trying to speak. When the caller said that wasn't acceptable, the lady replied: "You see, you can talk perfectly well when you want to!" The caller wrote to the helpline who responded excellently. They listened to their tape of the conversation and the lady was taken off the helpline for re-training. They also contacted the British Stammering Association for information to help them build stammering into their general training courses for helpline staff.
It may also be possible to use mediation. (However, from the end of March 2012 the free Equalities Mediation Service is no longer available.) Some links on mediation:
- County Court mediation (link to adrnow.org.uk)
- 'Get discrimination mediation' (link to advicenow.org.uk) - but see above on the Equalities Mediation Service.
This involves sending the service provider a form asking questions. It can help decide whether or not to make a complaint, and how to formulate and present a case. Forms and guidance are on the Home Office website.
This rule may help claimants. Basically it says that the burden of proof shifts to the service provider if the claimant makes out a prima facie case. More precisely, the claimant has to prove facts from which the court could decide, in the absence of adequate explanation, that the business or other organisation has acted unlawfully (EqA s.136). It is still for the claimant to show that he or she has a disability.
County Court claims
If you wish to take a claim to court, any proceedings normally go to the County Court, or in Scotland to the Sheriff Court (EqA s.114). However, claims in respect of 'employment services' as defined go to an Employment Tribunal.
County Court (or Sheriff Court) proceedings under the Equality Act must usually be started within six months (less one day), unless the court extends the period (EqA s.118). For when the time limit starts to run, see Discrimination: When does discrimination take place?
(There was also a time extension for disputes referred by the Equality and Human Rights Commission to the Equalities Mediation Service, but that service is no longer available from end of March 2012.)
In practice few cases on services seem to go to court..
Employees, agents and others involved in discrimination can be liable as well as the relevant business or organisation. See Who is liable.