Commission helps secure landmark accessibility ruling for disabled people

A judge has ordered the Royal Bank of Scotland to give a wheelchair user equal access

16 January 2009

Case update November 2009: Following an appeal by RBS, the Court of Appeal has upheld the ruling on access.

In the first ruling of its kind, a judge has ordered the Royal Bank of Scotland to install a lift so that a wheelchair user can have the same access as any other customer.

Furthermore, in recognising the embarrassing treatment  the young man experienced at the hands of the bank, he was awarded £6,500 - the highest ever compensation payout in this kind of case.

In taking the case against the bank with the support of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, David Allen, a 17 year-old wheelchair user  from Sheffield, has  secured a historic legal victory.

It is unlawful for businesses and public bodies to treat disabled people less favourably. But since the Disability Discrimination Act came into force in 1995, a judge has never before ordered an injunction to force an organisation to make physical changes to its property so that disabled people can gain access.

Mr. Allen's case will help ensure that a great number of disabled people in Britain are able to access goods, facilities and services. His case was taken with the support of the Commission and he was represented by the Sheffield Law Centre.

David Allen's legal battle began when, contrary to signage outside his local branch of the bank and information posted on its website, he found that he could not gain access. In a catalogue of incidents, David had to discuss his current account details in the street, breaching his right to confidentiality and causing him significant embarrassment. The bank then suggested that he should use the nearest accessible RBS branch, even though it was a 10 mile journey and amounted to a two and a half hour round trip journey by bus.

Judge Dowse of Sheffield County Court ruled that the Bank discriminated against Mr. Allen by not providing physical access to wheelchair users in its Sheffield city centre branch, and that the bank made no serious attempts to make the branch accessible to wheelchair users as required under the law.

In handing down his judgement, Judge Dowse said:

'In the light of the findings, I have made it is plain that David has suffered from discrimination and that he has suffered from considerable embarrassment caused by the Bank'.

Quoting a previous judgment, Judge Dowse described discrimination against disabled people as 'a social evil'.

John Wadham, Group Director, Legal at the Equality and Human Rights Commission said:

'When it comes to sensitive matters like our finances, we all value the discretion and security that Bank branches offer.  Why should a wheelchair user be denied this service when all that is needed is a little thought on behalf of a company?  The investment in some common sense facilities for wheelchair users is tiny compared to the reputational benefits for a company that is seen to treat all its customers well.

'David could have settled for a behind the scenes sum of money but he stood by his principles and his tenacity will mean a great number of disabled people will now benefit from the precedent set by this case.'

On hearing the Court's decision, David Allen said: 'I'm glad justice has been done. I only wanted them to comply with the law and provide disabled access so I could get into my bank like my friends.'

Ends

For media enquiries contact the Equality and Human Rights Commission Media Office on 02031170255, out of hours 07767272818.

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Notes to Editors

The case of David Allen ( A child by Ceri Allen His Litigation Friend) Vs The Royal Bank of Scotland PLC) was heard at Sheffield County Court.

While the Commission funded the Sheffield Law Centre to represent David Allen's directly, the Centre also receives £44,000 for legal casework as  part of the Commission's grants programme.

The Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) gives disabled people rights to access services or receive goods.

It is unlawful for service providers to treat disabled people less favourably because of a disability, and they must make ‘reasonable adjustments’, such as giving disabled extra help or changing the way they provide their services.

Following changes to the law in 2004, service providers must consider making changes to physical features of their premises so that there are no physical barriers which prevent disabled people from using their services, or make it unreasonably difficult for you to do so.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission is a statutory body established under the Equality Act 2006, which took over the responsibilities of Commission for Racial Equality, Disability Rights Commission and Equal Opportunities Commission.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission is the independent advocate for equality and human rights in Britain. It aims to reduce inequality, eliminate discrimination, strengthen good relations between people, and promote and protect human rights.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission enforces equality legislation on age, disability, gender, race, religion or belief, sexual orientation or transgender status, and encourage compliance with the Human Rights Act. It will also give advice and guidance to businesses, the voluntary and public sectors, and to individual