Access to services

The Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) gives you rights in the way you use services or receive goods.

It is unlawful for service providers to treat you less favourably because of your disability, and they must make ‘reasonable adjustments’ for you, such as giving you 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 you from using their services, or make it unreasonably difficult for you to do so.

It doesn’t matter whether or not you pay for the service; it’s providing the service that matters. Services include going to a restaurant, shopping for clothes or food, using the local library, going to church or visiting your solicitor or doctor.

A service doesn’t have to be impossible to use before a service provider has to make changes. They also have to make changes when it’s unreasonably difficult. They should think about whether any inconvenience, effort, discomfort or loss of dignity you experience in using the service would be considered unreasonable by other people, if they had to endure similar difficulties.

For more information on your rights when using goods and services, read Rights in different settings: services.

What are goods and services?

Most services are covered by the DDA. Anyone who provides a service to the public or a section of the public is a service provider. There are a few exceptions: private clubs that have a meaningful selection process for members; transport (but only the transport vehicle, not everything else connected with it such as stations, airports and booking facilities); and education.

Accommodation

Most providers of accommodation are service providers, including:

  • private landlords
  • housing associations
  • estate agents and managing agents
  • local authorities providing housing

This means they must make reasonable adjustments if you find a service unreasonably difficult to use.

For more about your rights in housing, see Rights in different settings: housing.

For more about the obligations of service providers to make reasonable adjustments, see Guidance for service providers.

Not all manufactured goods are covered. The maker of a bathroom suite does not have to make the bath accessible for you, but the shop selling it has to make sure that it is not unreasonably difficult for you to use its services.

Making reasonable adjustments to services

There isn’t a clear answer that can be given to the question ‘what is reasonable’? The law uses this phrase to allow different solutions in different situations, and it is ultimately up the courts to decide in each situation. However, what is reasonable may vary according to the type of service and the nature of the service provider, its size and resources.

Some of the factors that service providers might have to take into account when considering adjustments may include:

  • whether taking particular steps would overcome the difficulty that you face in accessing their service:
    • how practicable it is to take these steps
    • the financial and other costs involved
    • how disruptive it would be
    • how much money and other resources they have available
    • how much they have already spent
    •  what financial help is available to them.

If a service provider does nothing until you are unable to use their services, they could well be in breach of the law.

Is it all right for service providers to wait until I cannot use their services before making changes?

No. Their duties are anticipatory and continuing. In other words, service providers should be thinking ahead and continually looking at the way they provide services, the physical features of their premises and services, and how they can make improvements for disabled people.

Can service providers just make changes for people with particular disabilities?

No. Service providers should consider the full range of access needs of disabled people and the ways in which their services may be difficult to use.

How should a service provider deal with a physical feature that is making it difficult for me to use a service?

Once a service provider has identified the physical features that may make it difficult for you to use their service, then the law gives them a choice. They can remove that feature, alter it, find a way of avoiding it or provide the service another way.

We recommend that service providers first consider removing the physical feature or altering it. This is often the safest option because it is more likely to make the service accessible, meaning that you receive the services in the same way as other customers. This is called an ‘inclusive’ approach.
 
Where a service provider does decide to avoid a feature or provide the service another way, then the service must not be unreasonably difficult for you to use.

If you are finding it unreasonably difficult to use a service, see our advice section for end-users and for advisers: Using your rights.
 

Last Updated: 29 Sep 2014