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Services to the public FAQs

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This page does not apply outside Great Britain.
Last updated 7th January 2012 (part update 28th September 2019).

This page deals with rights under Part 3 of the Equality Act 2010. It focuses on services to the public, which includes discrimination by shops, businesses and most others providing goods, services or facilities. The page also links to other Part 3 rules, such as those on public authority functions. To have the Equality Act rights, your stammer needs to be a ‘disability’ within the Act. A separate page suggests guidelines for service providers on Making services accessible.

What is covered?

  • Anyone providing goods, services or facilities to the public, whether or not for payment, is prohibited from discriminating against disabled people. This is very wide and includes for example:

More detail on What is covered

Special cases

Some areas are subject to special rules:

  • transport has a limited exemption as regards ships and aircraft. From 4th December 2006 most land transport is within the legislation. Even for ships and aircraft, the legislation probably applies to timetables, booking facilities, waiting rooms etc;
  • education and related services for pupils and students normally come within separate rules in Equality Act Part 6. But, for example, a wholly privately funded college is likely to be within the general Part 3 rules on services to the public;
  • public authority functions were brought within the DDA (now the Equality Act 2010) from 4th December 2006 even where they are not services to the public – eg arrest by a police officer. Separate rules apply to them;
  • private members’ clubs with at least 25 members are covered by separate rules in Part 7, even if they are not providing services to the public;
  • there are separate rules for those selling, letting or managing premises – but hire of premises or booking rooms in hotels or guest houses is normally within the standard Part 3 rules;
  • ’employment services’ are covered under special provisions and disputes can go to the employment tribunal.

What counts as unlawful discrimination?

  • There are numerous types discrimination under the Equality Act 2010: see What is discrimination?
  • For some types of claim, the service provider has a defence if it shows objective justifcation, namely that its action is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim. However, the service provider would need to show not only a real need, but also that the aim was sufficiently important to outweigh the discriminatory effect on the person who stammers.
  • It is also discrimination contrary to the Equality Act if the provider fails to make a reasonable adjustment.
    • The reasonable adjustment duty is ‘anticipatory’, which means the service provider should be considering the needs of disabled people before a particular disabled person presents themself.
    • The service provider is not required to do anything which would fundamentally alter the nature of the service, or of its trade, profession or business.
  • A connection with Great Britain will be required in order to come within the Equality Act. The rules on this are not clear, except in the case of ‘information society services’ such as online shopping where the rules are spelt out. See Connection with Great Britain.

More detail on What counts as unlawful discrimination

How do these rules apply to stammering?

Emergency SMS

  • An adaptation available to people with speech or hearing difficulties is making 999 calls via text. You need to register your mobile phone before using the service, which is best done before an emergency arises. See www.emergencysms.net.

Are there any cases on stammering?

  • I don’t know of any court decisions on access to services specifically on stammering.
  • There is a case resolved by the Disability Conciliation Service, where a person with a severe speech impairment (I don’t know whether it was stammering) in a local pub was refused service, said to be drunk, and subjected to insulting remarks by a member of the bar staff.
  • I know of at least one case relating to a helpline where a person who stammers complained to the service provider and had them remedy the situation, without seeking compensation. More on helpline example…

If there is discrimination

  • You can complain to the business. This may encourage them to improve their service.
  • You can also use social media to do this more publicly.
  • You can contact the Equality Advisory and Support Service, a citizens advice bureau, Law Centre or solicitor – see sources of help and advice.
  • Where there is a breach of the Equality Act, you are normally entitled to a compensatory payment, most importantly for injury to feelings. Awards usually range from £1,000 upwards.
  • Complaints can be taken to the County Court (sheriff court in Scotland), generally within six months. The Equality and Human Rights Commission can occasionally assist in bringing cases.
More detail on complaints if there is discrimination

Further information

For web links generally on stammering and disability discrimination see the links page.

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