The Royal Bank of Scotland Group plc v Allen – Court of Appeal

Background

Just as employers have a duty under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (the "DDA") to make reasonable adjustments to premises or working practices to take account of the needs of a disabled employee or job applicant, service providers have a corresponding duty under the DDA towards their disabled users. When a service is provided to the general public, the purpose of the duty to make reasonable adjustments is to provide disabled users with equivalent access to that enjoyed by the rest of the public. A failure to make reasonable adjustments amounts to discrimination.

Facts of the case

Mr Allen is a wheelchair user who brought a claim of disability discrimination against the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) on the basis that it had failed to make reasonable adjustments to enable wheelchair users to access the Sheffield branch of the bank. RBS argued that it was sufficient that it had offered Mr Allen a combination of internet and telephone banking services and the use of branches elsewhere in Sheffield. Installation of a lift had been considered by RBS but rejected because it would require the loss of one of the branch's eight interview rooms.

The County Court held that RBS had discriminated against Mr Allen. It awarded damages for injury to feelings and ordered RBS to install a platform lift. RBS appealed the decision requiring it to install the lift, amongst other matters, on the grounds that the Court had incorrectly defined the services being provided by RBS.

The Court of Appeal's decision

The Court of Appeal dismissed RBS's appeal and said that the means by which a service is delivered is often an integral part of the service. Further, given that the general public obviously wants, and is provided with, physical access to RBS banks to use traditional counter banking services, it was not a reasonable alternative simply to offer telephone and internet banking. The Judgment ordering RBS to install the platform lift was therefore upheld.

What does this mean for you?

The Court of Appeal's Judgment means that service providers must be prepared to make significant adjustments in order to ensure that disabled users can enjoy their services as far as possible in the same way as the general public. This appears to impose a wider duty than previously understood as it seems to suggest that even if steps have been taken to provide disabled persons with an alternative way of receiving the service, the means of accessing the service may itself comprise part of the service on offer. In such circumstances, any steps which help to approximate the way in which the general public and disabled persons can receive the service are likely to be considered reasonable adjustments under the DDA unless the service provider can show compelling evidence to the contrary.