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FREQUENTLY (AND NOT SO FREQUENTLY) ASKED QUESTIONS

Updated: 23/2/06

QUESTION

OFFICES ON FIRST FLOOR OF A LISTED BUILDING

A recruitment agency mainly for manual workers (delivery drivers etc) is thinking of leasing a couple of first floor offices in a listed building in a conservation area. The building is quite old and does not have a lift. It would not be possible to alter the building to provide a lift. What would be the agency's legal position?

ANSWER

The final decision on the legal position would have to be decided in court. There are not many relevant cases yet but these should start to come through after the Disability Discrimantion Act Part III in October 2004. The revised code of practice is quite likely to give an initial indication on this type of issue when it is published later in 2001.

The following comments are based on what has been indicated so far, particularly by the DDA Codes of Practice.

There are three issues involved.

  • The service to customers/the public;
  • The duty to existing and future employees;
  • Obligations of the Landlord.

SERVICE TO CUSTOMERS

If a disabled person could not get to the offices while other members of the public could, it would be discriminatory. Some alternatives could be:
  • have occasional shared use of accessible facilities on the ground floor;
  • redirect disabled people, before they arrive, to another, reasonably nearby office;
  • take the service to the disabled person (in reasonable surroundings - not on the street).

It should be made clear in publicity information and signs, in advance of someone arriving, that alternative facilities are available and how to obtain them.

The service provider should be able to show that they have pursued issues, such as a lift being installed, and good reasons why they cannot be overcome.

Bear in mind that not all disabled people are in wheelchairs.

  • Provide an accessible intercom at ground floor level so that assistance or information can be called for;
  • Make access easy with handrails on both sides of steps and stairs, easy to open doors, clear signs and information etc;
  • Provide seats at different heights in waiting areas;
  • Make everything clearly visible - good lighting plus contrasts between walls, floors, doors, fittings and furniture; contrast strips on the top of stair nosings;
  • Provide an induction loop and symbol indicating its presence on a counter or reception desk and in an interview room. Make its availability clear in promotion material;
  • Provide a text telephone to receive calls and make its availability clear in promotion material. Alternatively, the free Typetalk service from BT can be used.

EXISTING AND FUTURE EMPLOYEES

The office work maybe ideal for some disabled people. Interviews should be based around a person's skills and suitability for the job. Access issues should be considered after the selection. The first floor location could therefore be discriminatory.
  • Does the agency have another, more accessible office nearby?

If an existing member of staff becomes disabled, they have rights to continuing employment.

  • How might this be achieved - at another branch?

OBLIGATIONS OF THE LANDLORD

The landlord is not obliged to make alterations in the interests of access but cannot unreasonably withhold permission for the tenant to carry out such works. Reducing value of property, health and safety issues or statutory requirements (such as listed approval) may be reasons not to give permission. If the landlord controls communal areas, he/she is responsible for access in those areas.

SUMMARY

The equality issues cannot be ignored. Some reasonable actions need to be taken. Moving into premises now could be seen by a court to be done with full knowledge of the 1995 DDA, which has been in force since December 1996. Answers need to be prepared on solutions to the Service and Employment issues, before questions of discrimination are raised.




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