Bank loses appeal over ‘landmark’ access ruling


A bank will have to install a lift at a city centre branch after a disabled customer won an appeal court victory in a landmark discrimination case.

The Royal Bank of Scotland will have to carry out the building work – at an estimated cost of £200, 000 – in order to make its Sheffield city centre branch accessible to wheelchair-users.

The case was brought by teenager David Allen, an electric wheelchair-user, who could not access the branch because the entrance was at the top of four steps.

Allen was forced to discuss personal details about his account in the street outside the branch.

Lord Justice Wall, one of the three court of appeal judges, said there were “reasonable steps” the bank could have taken to make the branch accessible.

He added: “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 had appealed against a decision by Sheffield county court in January that it had breached the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) – the first time an injunction had been granted ordering work to be carried out to make business premises accessible.

The county court had rejected the argument that Allen should use internet banking instead, ruling that it was not the same service.

Sheffield Law Centre, which helped Allen bring the case, with funding from the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said the appeal court judgement stressed that services for disabled people must be as close as possible to those provided to the general public.

Allen’s compensation of £6,500 was the highest awarded for a failure to make reasonable adjustments under part three of the DDA, which relates to goods and services.

Allen was awarded an extra £3,000 compensation for ongoing discrimination, as the lift will not be installed until August 2010 – the total award of £9,500 is now the largest by a court under part three of the DDA.

After the judgement, Allen said: “I’m glad the bank finally had to apologise in court and acknowledge they treated me badly.”

But he added: “They just failed to understand anything about the need for privacy and dignity.”

Douglas Johnson, of Sheffield Law Centre, said the judgement would “make it easier and simpler” for courts to deal with complaints of disability discrimination.

He added: “The real access issue is about people and attitudes, not ramps and steps.”

23 November 2009