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Discrimination in the provision of services

Mr Paulley, a wheelchair user, sought to board a bus operated by FirstGroup on 24 February 2012. The wheelchair space marked with a notice which read ‘Please give up this space for a wheelchair user’ was occupied by a sleeping child in a pushchair. The bus driver asked the child’s mother to vacate but the mother refused and the driver took no further action.

Mr Paulley could not board the bus and had to wait for the next one, resulting in him arriving at his destination one hour later than he had planned. He bought proceedings in the County Court for disability discrimination and failure to make reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act 2010, pursuant to s.20 applicable to public service providers under s.29(7) of the Act. The Court held that the provision, criterion or practice (PCP) of requesting but not requiring non-wheelchair users to vacate the wheelchair space placed Mr Paulley at a substantial disadvantage, when compared to a non-disabled person. He was awarded £5,500 in compensation.

FirstGroup successfully appealed to the Court of Appeal. Mr Paulley appealed to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court held that drivers should be required to do more than request that the space be vacated. It held that drivers should go as far as they feel is reasonable in the circumstances to ‘require and pressurise’, rejecting Mr Paulley’s contention that the driver should have insisted that the space be vacated by a non-disabled passenger. The Court did not award damages to Mr Paulley due to the limited nature of the breach.

It is worth noting (as this applies outside of the employment context) that an employer is likely to have a greater degree of control over an employee than a service provider would over its users. Therefore an employer may have more onerous expectations placed upon it than that which can reasonably be expected of a public service provider.

This article is not a substitute for legal advice on specific facts and circumstances. It is designed as a free update on the law at the time of publishing. Knight Polson Limited trading as QualitySolicitors Knight Polson accepts no responsibility for reliance on this article and recommends that you seek independent legal advice on your specific circumstances prior to taking any steps.

If you have any questions or would like to discuss the contents of the above article, please do not hesitate to contact us on  or 023 8064 4822.


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