Theatre discrimination victory ‘will have wide-reaching impact’


newslatestA leading entertainment group has admitted discriminating against a disabled theatre-goer by forcing him to buy a ticket for the personal assistant (PA) he needed to accompany him to a concert.

Doug Paulley and seven other residents of the care home where he lives in Wetherby were told that they would have to pay for full-price tickets both for themselves and their PAs if they wanted to watch comedian Bill Bailey at York Barbican.

The multinational entertainment group that runs the theatre – SMG (UK) – fought a legal action taken by Paulley until the night before a trial was due to begin in Harrogate county court this week, before finally agreeing that it had discriminated against him.

Paulley said he and his fellow residents had been shocked to be charged £50 to attend the show, instead of the £25 other theatre-goers were paying for a ticket, “just because we were disabled”.

He said: “We have no choice but to rely upon carers, who we have to pay to help anyway. I felt very strongly that this kind of policy essentially kept disabled people away from social venues, and that something had to be done.

“I am delighted that the Barbican has agreed to change its policy, but disappointed that it did so the night before a court hearing.”

Paulley, who is also playing a key role in the legal fight to improve disabled people’s access to buses, added: “I hope that our case can serve as an example for venues everywhere that they must ensure that their pricing policy for carers does not unfairly disadvantage disabled people.”

SMG will now have to pay court costs of at least £20,000, as well as £1,500 compensation to Paulley, while it has admitted in a court document that it discriminated against him.

Chris Fry, managing partner of Unity Law, which represented Paulley, said: “This case establishes a legal precedent in relation to ticket pricing policies for disabled customers and their carers.

“By bringing his case, Doug has secured a change of policy which not only affects this venue, but also has a wide-reaching impact on sports and entertainment venues across the UK.”

SMG has now accepted in the court document that any disabled person who wants to visit the theatre with a PA “shall not be required to pay more than the cost of one fully-priced ticket”.

But enquiries by Disability News Service (DNS) after the agreement was announced revealed that some other SMG venues were continuing to operate similar discriminatory policies.

The Bridgewater Hall in Manchester told DNS that although wheelchair spaces were offered at half price to those with PAs, the prices for PAs accompanying disabled people who were not wheelchair-users “varies from concert to concert”.

Another SMG venue, the Odyssey Arena in Belfast, said that free tickets for PAs “only apply if the person is unable to go anywhere independently on their own”.

And the Metro Radio Arena in Newcastle told DNS that the “free carer ticket is only for people who require 24-hour care”.

After this information was drawn to SMG’s attention, a spokesman told DNS: “From the information you have given us we recognise there is some inconsistency across our group of venues.

“We are now undertaking a full review with the intention of standardising our policies and procedures in relation to carer tickets.”

6 February 2014