In April this year the law around ‘no win, no fee’ arrangements changed due to lobbying from the insurance industry around the so-called compensation culture. This has massively backfired onto the most vulnerable of society, and has made enforcing the Equality Act 2010 incredibly difficult. I wrote about this issue in August, but since then have heard almost nothing more about this problem. This is one of those subjects that should be making headlines, causing protests and marches, but instead the response has been limited.
Just to summarise: If a person with a disability wanted to bring a legal case against someone – for example a bank, for refusing to provide a ramp, or a university for failing to adhere to a request to provide course materials in braille for a blind student, they could have entered into a no win, no fee agreement with a specialist law firm. These agreements are backed with an insurance policy, and would mean if the case was lost, the insurance company would protect them from any fees, and if they won – all the costs were met by the losing side. However, the change to the law has meant even if the case is won, they cannot claim the costs of the insurance premium back.
It may be thought that it’s completely reasonable to pay the costs out of any compensation received – but damage payouts tend to be pretty low. In fact – most of the time it will mean having to pay out much more than any compensation amount they could ever hope to receive.
This means the following:
- Legal proceedings will be reserved for only the richest in society.
- Shops and service providers will be able to ignore the law, as no one will be able to afford to bring a case against them.
- It has vastly reduced the power of the Equality Act overnight.
- Legal cases bring change that help shape society to be accessible to people with disabilities.
Today Unity Law has launched the Equal Justice Report, which you can read here. Please do read it to find out the specifics of what needs changing, and the impact it will have. Here are two simple ways you can help:
- Write to your MP. Unity has provided a template letter within the report, but I have found not all MPs respond well to a template letter – so write how it may impact you or your loved ones.
- Create a buzz on social media – share the report on every platform you can, and tweet using the hashtag #equaljustice
People need to realise the impact this will have, and that will only happen if we all pull together to fight back against this terrible change in the law.
Credit to Mconnors
How many times have you heard a story of a wheelchair user being refused access to a bus, and left waiting in the cold, snow or rain? It happens all the time.
I’ve heard reports of wheelchair users being left stranded for hours, being told they can’t get on the last bus of the night and even of one driver telling the other passengers that if they allowed an electric wheelchair onboard then it might blow up.
Despite these many cases, the bus companies often seem indifferent. I’ve had quite a bit of experience of this myself as chair of an Access Group – over the years I’ve had numerous complaints from members about local buses, and the letters back from the bus companies always follow the same formula. An apology, and a promise that drivers are trained in disability awareness. When we’re tried to follow up on this – and ask whether we could perhaps run a training session, or even just see the materials that they’re being trained on, but we’ve been met with radio silence.
I was very interested to see that Unity Law, a disability specialist firm based in Sheffield had taken on the case of Doug Paulley, a wheelchair user who was unable to get on a First Bus when one of their drivers wouldn’t make a parent with a pushchair move out of the space. Having contacted them in the past about similar issues and having not got anywhere, he decided to he contacted Unity to see what could be done legally.
The good news is that today a judge has set a legal precedent by agreeing that the policy must be prioritisation for wheelchair users, as the ‘first come, first serve’ policy contravened the Equality Act 2010. First have been given six months to retrain staff and put this in place, but the great news is the judgement will mean that all bus and train operators will have to adopt similar policies, or face similar legal action.
This is great news that will make travelling by public transportation a little bit easier for people with disabilities.
Bus in Ireland (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I found out today that a group of people in Darlington have brought legal action against Arriva bus company for disability discrimination.
The buses have been refusing to allow people in wheelchairs on because pushchairs are there; not putting the ramp down for them; telling them they will be too heavy for the ramp; not stopping for them; or giving them abuse for trying.
In one case a young man waited in the snow for the last bus of the evening, which refused to let him on. When he started to challenge it, the bus driver turned round to the passengers and told them if they let him on the battery on his chair could explode.
Credit to Michal Zacharzewski
Pushchairs do NOT have priority. I know it’s not easy, but parents should fold their pushchair should a wheelchair need the space, as a disabled person can’t jump out of their chair and the wide space is put in specifically for disabled access, not for prams. (The exception is of course if either the child or parent is disabled themselves and so cannot do this.)
Lothian buses in Edinburgh have actually now banned non-foldable buggies (prams) and insist on them actually being folded if they get on. I can’t say I like the thought of people being left at a stop in any case, however hopefully once the policy is known about, people will make sure they purchase a foldable chair.
Certainly buses should be doing all they can to make themselves accessible for people with disabilities. Good on Darlington Association on Disability and Unity Law for fighting it!