As the final step towards fulfiling the government's pledge to extend rights for disabled people, the Disability Discrimination Bill will bring a further 175,000 people within the scope of the DDA. Elspeth Grant explains
01 April 2005
While some FMs may be still be getting to grips with the contents of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA) a new bill has been passed through Parliament that makes a number of amendments to the legislation that FMs need to be aware of. Currently in its three-month consultation phase, the Disability Discrimination Bill is expected to become law in 2006.
The bill is the final step towards fulfiling the government's pledge to extend rights and opportunities for disabled people. It will widen the definition of disability to provide protection for a broader range of disabled people, which will bring 175,000 more people within the scope of the DDA.
The original act makes it unlawful to discriminate against a disabled person in relation to employment, the provision of goods, facilities and services, and the disposal and management of premises, as well as making some provision concerning education, and for regulations to be made concerning accessibility of of taxis, public service vehicles and rail vehicles. Principal to the provisions of the bill is the proposal to extend the 1995 act to the functions of public authorities, however the bill also introduces:
a power to apply the DDA duties on other service providers to transport in addition to setting an end date by which all rail vehicles will have to comply with accessibility
bringing within the scope of Part 111 of the DDA private clubs with 25 or more members
extending the duty of reasonable adjustment, apart from physical features, to those who let or manage rented premises
protection for people diagnosed with the progressive conditions of HIV, MS and cancer
In some cases it has been shown that public functions are not necessarily defined as 'service' for the purposes of discrimination, so that functions such as the design of roads and pavements are not covered by the act.
Perhaps the part of the bill most relevant to facilities managers are the amendments put in place regarding the letting and selling of property. The DDA already has provisions that make it unlawful for persons who are selling or letting premises to discriminate against disabled persons, and for persons who manage premises to discriminate against a disabled person occupying the premises. Additional provisions are contained in the bill which make it unlawful for landlords and managers to discriminate against a disabled tenant or prospective tenant by failing to comply with a duty to provide a reasonable adjustment for the disabled person, without appropriate justification. But changes to the physical features of the premises by a landlord or manager are only required when requested by the tenant or prospective tenant.
Other acts of discrimination that will made unlawful include:
the treatment of the disabled in relation to any waiting list for the premises
the way disabled persons are permitted to use any benefits or facilities
deliberately not permitting the disabled person to use any benefits or facilities
These provisions cover the letting of both commercial and residential premises in the UK and include sub-letting and licences to occupy premises. They will require a landlord or manager to take reasonable steps to change a policy, practice or procedure which makes it unreasonably difficult or impossible for a disabled person either to let or use the premises or a benefit or facility included in the let.
The new legislation eliminates unlawful discrimination and unlawful harassment in the public sector. The equality of opportunity needs to be promoted between disabled and non-disabled people, while steps are needed to take into account the requirements of disabled persons, even when that involves treating them more favourably than others. This will require public authorities to make disability equality an integral part of their decision-making and policy-making processes, service delivery and employment practices.
Public authorities will include "any person certain of whose functions are of a public nature", excluding among others: both houses of parliament at Westminster, the Secret Intelligence Service, the Government Communications Headquarters, and any part of the naval, military or air forces of the Crown which is required by the secretary of the state to assist the Government Communications Headquarters in carrying out its functions.
The bill will make it unlawful for associations with 25 or more members to discriminate against disabled members, applicants for membership, associates and guests in certain circumstances. This also covers discrimination against a disabled person during the application process, terms of membership and in the way in which a member has access to the club's benefits, facilities or services. It will also apply to access to benefits, facilities or services provided to and invitations extended to or refused to disabled guests of members or the association. An important part of the bill is the modification of the definition of disability. It now applies to people with progressive conditions, specifically those conditions which are likely to get worse over time, for example MS, HIV and cancer.
The extension will automatically cover some people with such conditions from the point of diagnosis, irrespective of whether they can establish the necessary adverse effect on their ability to carry out day-to-day activities.
The bill brings with it an increased responsibility for landlords, employers and FMs alike and calls for a review of procedures and facilities to ensure nothing more needs to be done to improve conditions for the disabled.
Elspeth Grant is managing director of AAAconsult