EHRC threatens Premier League clubs with formal investigations over access failings

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Only three out of 20 Premier League football clubs have met minimum requirements on providing accessible spaces and seating for disabled fans, according to the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).

A new EHRC review says Premier League clubs have made “only limited progress on stadia accessibility”, have broken Premier League rules, and have failed to provide sufficient information when questioned by the watchdog.

It also concludes that access issues may never have been discussed at board level at some clubs, while three of the clubs do not appear to have appointed anyone to the “key” position of disability access officer.

The EHRC said that some of the information provided to it by the clubs was of an “appalling” standard, and it warned that it could launch a statutory investigation into the failings of some of the clubs.

Seven of them appear to be breaching the Premier League’s own rules after failing to provide a comprehensive disability access statement – including all the information a disabled person needs when attending a match – on their websites.

Only seven of the 20 clubs provide the recommended number of wheelchair spaces, and only eight provide the minimum number of amenity [extra leg-room]and easy access (AEA) seats.

The figures could be even worse, says EHRC, as some of the wheelchair spaces may not meet the relevant criteria in the guidelines.

The worst performers for providing wheelchair spaces were Burnley (27 per cent of the recommended number), Crystal Palace (38 per cent) and Spurs (31 per cent, although it is building a new stadium).

Just three clubs – Swansea City, Manchester City and West Ham – meet recommended levels for wheelchair spaces and AEA seats and provide no more than a quarter of wheelchair spaces at pitch-side.

EHRC points out in the review that the relevant guidelines, contained in the Accessible Stadia Guide (ASG), were published 14 years ago.

In August 2015, 17 of the clubs – all of them except those promoted this season – pledged to meet all of the ASG standards by August 2017, but the review suggests most of them will break that promise, although it says that there is “a lot of work being undertaken by clubs” in the run-up to the deadline.

EHRC points out that football clubs have been required by law to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people since 1999, and adds: “Given the considerable wealth of the majority of Premier League clubs we would expect them to have taken significant steps over the past 18 years to ensure that they comply with their legal obligations.”

It adds: “Following our analysis of the information provided to us, the Commission remains concerned that not all clubs in the Premier League are complying with their obligations under the Act.”

It is now seeking meetings with clubs that have yet to demonstrate their plans to meet their legal obligations, and next month will issue a call for evidence from disabled fans on their experiences of attending Premier League matches.

But it warns that it will launch formal investigations into clubs in September if “we continue to suspect that a club or clubs are not complying with their legal obligations”.

Tony Taylor, chair of the national disabled supporters’ organisation Level Playing Field (LPF), said: “Once again, we need to make absolutely clear that these minimum standards have been in place for many years and that there is simply no excuse as to why any club should fail to meet these basic criteria to providing an inclusive matchday experience for disabled fans. 

“Indeed, we believe that Premier League clubs, with all their resources, should go well beyond what is considered to be the minimum requirements and should set the standard for all sports stadia.

“LPF have always worked closely with Premier League clubs and will continue to do so, and  unequivocally welcome the firm stance the EHRC is taking on the issue.”

David Isaac (pictured), EHRC’s chair, said: “The end of the season is fast approaching and time is running out for clubs.

“The information we received from some clubs was of an appalling standard, with data missing and with insufficient detail.

“What is clear is that very few clubs are doing the minimum to meet the needs of disabled supporters.

“The Premier League itself does not escape blame. They need to make the concerns of disabled fans a priority and start enforcing their own rule book.

“We will be meeting individual clubs and asking them to explain themselves and tell us what their plans are.”

A Premier League spokesman said in a statement that clubs were “working hard to improve their facilities and rapid progress has been made”.

He claimed that the improvements were “unprecedented in scope, scale and timing by any group of sports grounds or other entertainment venues in the UK.

“Given the differing ages and nature of facilities, some clubs have faced significant built environment challenges.

“For those clubs, cost is not the determining factor.

“They have worked, and in some cases continue to work, through issues relating to planning, how to deal with new stadium development plans, how to best manage fan disruption or, where clubs don’t own their own grounds, dealing with third parties.

“Clubs will continue to engage with their disabled fans and enhance their provisions in the coming months, years and beyond.”

The Premier League will publish a report in August to detail the work carried out by clubs since August 2015.

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