A crossover between planning and equality law has grabbed the attention of lawmakers and media and not knowing about it could cost you more than your reputation.
When a severely disabled boy was taken to his favourite theme park his mother couldn't find a toilet suitable for his needs. This quickly escalated into a public argument about equality law and, eventually, legal action.
This real and recent example was covered extensively by the BBC and relates to the significant and growing campaign for 'Changing Places' facilities.
Changing Places are a particular type of accessible toilet. They're distinct from other types in that they provide support to people with the most severe disabilities. Changing Places offer toilet and changing areas, a hoist, changing bench and hygiene facilities.
It's estimated around 250,000 people need access to Changing Places in the UK. The issue is promoted by a strong campaign which is well supported. MPs are engaged and the government is listening, with a new consultation due to take place this year on ways to demand new large public buildings provide them.
Future-proofing your reputation
A Changing Place isn't cheap to install. Costs of £50,000 are within realistic expectations.
But that price could well be dwarfed by the expense and reputational damage involved in defending a legal challenge based on a failure to comply with Equality Act or similar duties.
Building Regulations currently don't require the provision of Changing Places - it is merely 'recommended'. But, as the example above shows, business leaders can't rely on that to avoid risks under existing laws. Given that Changing Places are also high on the legislative agenda and will almost certainly become compulsory, it's worth giving some thought to future-proofing your property.
In short, Changing Places are here to stay – and are not something anyone who manages public facilities should ignore.
What puts you at risk?
There are several factors, but the main driver is the Equality Act 2010.
If you don't make reasonable adjustments, it can be discrimination and you can be liable. There are various tests, but ultimately if a claim is brought a court will decide.
There's a lot to consider, but two things are worth keeping in mind at this point:
- You are required to take positive steps to ensure disabled people can access services. Frequently this means you must treat disabled people more favourably than others to remove disadvantage.
- It is an "anticipatory duty". That means you as a service provider – whether you already have disabled customers or not and whether any complaints have been made or not – must make reasonable adjustments. Equality and Human Rights Commission guidance states you must think in advance about what people with a range of impairments might reasonably need.
Changing Places are a complex and developing area of law which can't all be described here. Visit our Changing Places information page to find out more.
Alternatively, if you want to get in touch now email me or call 01752 675514 and I would be pleased to discuss your circumstances in confidence.