Customers and clients of shops, businesses and other providers of services are protected against disability discrimination. Disability discrimination law also applies to bodies such as the police exercising public functions. A separate page suggests guidelines for service providers on Making services accessible.
Examples of what may well breach the Equality Act:
- Putting the phone down on a customer (or potential customer) because of the stammer. See Example: restaurant puts phone down;
- A customer who stammers is not given the extra time needed to communicate. See Right to be heard and Example: Queue in bank;
- Being rude to a customer or mocking them because they stammer;
- Voice-activated phone systems – booking or enquiry systems where the computer cannot understand what you say and you cannot get put through promptly to a real person;
- Voice analysis on insurance claims, if this leads to insurance claims by people who stammer being investigated with particular suspicion on the basis that they are likely to be dishonest.
In general, anyone providing goods, services or facilities to the public is prohibited from discriminating against disabled people. On this website I use ‘services’ as a shorthand for ‘goods, services or facilities’.
The rules apply whether the services are provided free or for payment. They include for example shops, local councils and government departments, telesales businesses, and courts (see Appearing in court).
A body exercising public functions need not be ‘providing services’ to be covered. For example police arresting someone or interrogating a suspect, or a local authority taking enforcement action, may not be ‘providing services’ but they are covered by rules on public functions.
There are special rules on education and employment services, and there are limited exceptions in the case of airlines and ships. Many private members’ clubs are also within the Equality Act even where they do not involve services to the public.
The normal types of discrimination apply, including a duty to make reasonable adjustments. Making fun of a stammer is also likely to be a breach of the Equality Act: see Examples and Services to the public FAQs.
Making a complaint
You can complain to the service provider, which may help raise awaress of the importance of making services accessible for people who stammer, and produce improvements for others with a stammer.
There is likely to be a right to compensation for injury to feelings.
Even if you do not want compensation for yourself. you could consider asking the service provider to make a donation of an agreed amount to charity. (Please consider the British Stammering Association: stammering.org).
Any court case – if things get that far – normally go to the County Court, or sheriff court in Scotland.
There is a free Equality Advisory and Support Service (EASS), and also other possible sources of help and advice.
There is a statutory Services, Public functions and Associations: Statutory Code of Practice linked of my Guidance and Codes of Practice page. It is not binding but needs to be taken into account by courts.