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In FirstGroup Plc v Paulley the Supreme Court was asked to assess an appeal by a wheelchair user. The issue arose from the refusal of a passenger with a pushchair to give up a wheelchair space in favour of the wheelchair user. The Supreme Court held that the operating company had not taken enough action to protect the disabled customer and simply placing a sign requesting non-wheelchair users to give up a wheelchair space was not enough.

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Supreme Court rules on the disability polices companies must have in place when dealing with the general public

13 February 2017

Introduction

In FirstGroup Plc v Paulley the Supreme Court was asked to assess an appeal by a wheelchair user. The issue arose from the refusal of a passenger with a pushchair to give up a wheelchair space in favour of the wheelchair user. The Supreme Court held that the operating company had not taken enough action to protect the disabled customer and simply placing a sign requesting non-wheelchair users to give up a wheelchair space was not enough.

Background

Under the Equality Act2010 companies have a duty to take such steps as reasonable to ensure disabled customers are not put at a disadvantage.

In deciding what steps are reasonable, a court will assess the Equality Act 2010 Code of Practice: Services, public functions and associations. The code is a non-exhaustive list but gives examples of steps companies should look to take.

The Case

Mr Paulley, a wheelchair user, attempted to board a First Group bus. The designated wheelchair space was occupied by a women and a pushchair containing a sleeping child. When asked to move for Mr Paulley, she refused. When the bus driver asked her to move she refused again and Mr Paulley was asked to leave the bus, as there was no space for him, as was the bus operator's policy.

In the first instance, the court found in favour of Mr Paulley, stating that the request for the customer to move was not enough. The bus operator appealed the decision and it was overturned by the Court of Appeal. Mr Paulley then appealed to the Supreme Court. On assessing the circumstances the appeal was allowed. Where a driver's request had been refused, the bus operator had to have a policy that gave a practical next step, such as stopping the bus with a view to pressuring the non-wheelchair user to give way. There were, however, divisions amongst the judges as to the exact remedy that the company should have put in place.

Moving Forward

This case illustrates an important decision in relation to any company that deals with the general public. Companies must ensure that not only do they have internal policies in place for approaching disabled customers, but that they are thorough enough not to put that customer at a disadvantage. In addition companies must ensure that all staff have been trained on how to enforce these policies. 

 

This article was written by Kim Wright and James Crotty.