Ruling on access to bank confirmed by court

Court of Appeal upholds landmark decision for disabled people

20 November 2009

The Court of Appeal today confirmed that the Royal Bank of Scotland had breached the Disability Discrimination Act by failing to provide access to its Sheffield branch for wheelchair users.

RBS had appealed the decision following a landmark judgment earlier this year in a case brought by David Allen, a wheelchair user, which was funded by the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

The original decision of the County Court was the first time that an injunction had been granted ordering work to be carried out on business premises to make a building accessible. Mr Allen was also awarded £6,500, the highest amount of compensation ever awarded in a case under the Disability Discrimination Act.

Mr Allen had brought the case against RBS alleging that he had been discriminated against because the bank was not wheelchair accessible. He had been forced to discuss personal details of his bank account with RBS staff on the street in full public view. He was also advised to use the nearest accessible RBS branch, even though it was ten miles away and amounted to a two-hour round trip by bus.

The Commission funded the Sheffield Law Centre to represent Mr Allen.

Lord Justice Wall said in today’s ruling that the bank could have taken steps to provide access for disabled people. He said:

'The bank did not take those steps, giving as its reason not the disproportionate cost of carrying out the work, but simply the fact that it would lose the use of an interview room.'

The Bank must now undertake the building work at an estimated cost of £200,000.

John Wadham, the Commission’s Group Director, Legal, said the result was a victory for all disabled people.

'This judgment will help to ensure that disabled people are offered the same level of service that non-disabled people would expect to receive. The Court’s decision also shows that taking action to make their services accessible can help prevent businesses being involved in costly legal cases and avoid negative publicity in the future.'

Ends

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Notes to Editors

David Allen (a child by Ceri Allen, his Litigation Friend) v The Royal Bank of Scotland PLC
[2009] EWCA Civ 1213 (Citation)

David Allen,19, has Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy and is a permanent wheelchair user. He opened an account with the Royal Bank of Scotland at their Sheffield city centre branch. Access to this branch was at the top of four steps which Mr Allen was unable to negotiate.

Mr Allen wished to discuss his account with a member of the bank’s staff. As he was unable to get to the bank, he was forced to discuss details of his account with staff on the street, breaching his confidentiality and causing him significant embarrassment.

Mr Allen brought proceedings for disability discrimination in the Sheffield County Court. Under the Disability Discrimination Act 2005 it is unlawful for service providers to treat disabled people less favourably because of a disability. They must also make any ‘reasonable adjustments’ that are necessary to remove any barriers which make it difficult for disabled people to access their services.

The County Court found that Mr Allen had suffered discrimination and ordered the Bank to pay Mr Allen £6,500 and issued an injunction forcing the bank to install a lift to ensure it was accessible to those using wheelchairs.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission

The Commission is a statutory body established under the Equality Act 2006, which took over the responsibilities of Commission for Racial Equality, Disability Rights Commission and Equal Opportunities Commission. It is the independent advocate for equality and human rights in Britain. It aims to reduce inequality, eliminate discrimination, strengthen good relations between people, and promote and protect human rights. The Commission enforces equality legislation on age, disability, gender, race, religion or belief, sexual orientation or transgender status, and encourages compliance with the Human Rights Act. It also gives advice and guidance to businesses, the voluntary and public sectors, and to individuals.