The Equality Act 2010 (the ‘2010 Act‘) broadly consolidated anti-discrimination law in the UK into a single piece of legislation and provides significant legal protection against discrimination. The 2010 Act requires parties including Registered Social Landlords (‘RSLs‘) to actively take steps to prevent discrimination. Where those duties are not complied with, parties may raise a claim in the courts. An RSL’s duties include the duty to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to premises.

What is the duty to make reasonable adjustments?

Section 20 of the 2010 Act sets out a duty to make reasonable adjustments to properties (the ‘duty‘). The duty applies in circumstances where a disabled person would be put at a substantial disadvantage in comparison to another person who does not have a disability, due to either the physical features of that property or any provision, criterion or practice of the RSL.

Notably, the definition of a disability under the 2010 Act includes a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on someone’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. This may include some issues which might not otherwise be included in the definition of a disability, such as mental health issues.

What is required to comply with the duty?

In practice there are two elements to satisfying the duty.

  • RSLs are required to take such steps as are reasonable for the disabled person to avoid the disadvantage. This could mean, for example, allocating a property to a physically disabled tenant which is appropriate for someone with mobility issues, rather than a top-floor flat.
  • RSLs are also required to take such steps as are reasonable to provide the aid that is required in respect of a tenant’s disability. This could mean adjusting a property to facilitate access for a physically disabled tenant, for example by adding handrails.

‘Reasonable adjustments’ is clearly a flexible term. The obligations on the landlord will depend on all the circumstances of the case, including the tenant’s disability, the nature of the premises, and the nature of the adjustments required or requested.

Demonstrating compliance with the duty

There has been a notable increase in heritable actions that are defended, or counterclaims raised, on the basis of a landlord not complying with their equality duties. This demonstrates the importance of compliance with the duty, and of building an application of the duty into policies to demonstrate that compliance.

How can this be done?

On an ongoing basis, it is important that RSLs provide tenants with a means to advise the landlord when the tenant develops a disability and requires adjustments to be made over the course of the tenancy.

Policies often allow RSLs to demonstrate their compliance with equalities legislation, in that they highlight how an RSL has sought to incorporate equality into their processes. Any policy that allows for reasonable adjustments to be made should reflect that the duty to make reasonable adjustments requires a fact-specific view of the situation. The duty will be satisfied by taking all relevant facts into account and deciding what can reasonably be done to negate the impact of a disability. Therefore, policies should allow for flexibility and encourage a holistic approach to the situation, rather than a uniform application of the policy.