Disability discrimination by private and public service providers

This information applies to England and Wales.

The Equality Act 2010 says that public services and private businesses must make 'reasonable adjustments' so that disabled people can access their services.

Adjustments might include things like installing a ramp or providing information in large print. What is 'reasonable' depends on what you need, how much it would cost and how many people would benefit.

Asking for reasonable adjustments

Businesses and services covered by the act include:

  • retailers like shops and shopping centres
  • restaurants and pubs
  • entertainment venues like theatres, cinemas and sports stadiums
  • lease and rental services like car rentals or cleaning
  • local authorities and social services
  • public transport
  • health services like NHS trusts, hospitals and GPs
  • government departments
  • online services like websites and apps

Warning The public sector equality duty

This duty means that public authorities must consider how their policies will affect everyone covered by the Equality Act.

Public sector equality duty (Citizens Advice)

What counts as discrimination

Discrimination happens when someone puts you at a disadvantage. You should be able to go about your daily life as anyone else would expect to. If you cannot, it may be discrimination depending on the situation.

The most common types of discrimination in public and private services are:

  • direct discrimination, where someone treats you unfairly because of your impairment or condition
  • indirect discrimination, where a business has not considered your needs
  • harassment
  • victimisation

The Equality Act does not automatically cover you because you have a long-term impairment or condition, unless you have cancer, HIV or multiple sclerosis.

Definition of disability under the Equality Act 2010 (GOV.UK)

It can be upsetting to feel at a disadvantage when you're going about your daily life. There are things you can do and people who can help if you feel discriminated against.

Raise your concern in person

If possible, it's best to raise your concern with a member of staff or manager when the problem happens. You may find that they can resolve it right away.

Remember that it's your right to ask for a reasonable adjustment. You can ask a member of staff to help you and then show them the problem. Telling them may help other people facing similar problems.

Generally, people are happy to help when you're calm and polite. If you're angry, wait until you feel calmer to raise your concern.

Ask for an email or postal address and contact number so you can follow up.

If you cannot raise your concern when the problem happens, record details of the incident or take a photo. This way, you can return in person another time or contact the company by phone or email to complain.

Warning Be careful with social media

Raise the issue with the provider first to give them the chance to fix the problem.

Social media can be a way of attracting attention. But it can do more harm than good, so be careful.

Follow up in writing

Follow up in writing as soon as possible and outline:

  • what happened
  • the date, time and place it happened
  • who you spoke to
  • their solution
  • how you feel about the matter
  • whether it's been resolved

Write 'without prejudice' at the top of your email or letter. This is a legal statement that means no one can use this against you in a court of law.

Letter templates for complaints and compensation (Which?)

Ask for the complaints procedure

You will need to follow the provider's complaints procedure to the end before you can take any legal action.

If your problem is with an online service or app, there should be an accessibility statement on the service's website with clear guidelines on how to complain.

Reporting an accessibility problem (GOV.UK)

How to complain about inaccessible public sector websites (Scope for Business)

Failure to make reasonable adjustments and making complaints

Contact EASS for advice

The Equality Advisory Support Service (EASS) supports people affected by discrimination. Once you've followed the complaints procedure, the EASS can help you:

  • understand the law and your options
  • use a resolution or mediation service
  • find a legal service if you need to take the matter further
  • work out if you're entitled to legal aid

Contact the free EASS helpline on 0808 800 0082.

The legal process can be emotionally draining and take up a lot of your time. Think about your reasons before you decide to take the matter further. Ask close family and friends what they think too as you may need their support through it.

It's important to get legal advice about whether you can claim discrimination. You usually pay a court fee but can apply for a reduction if you receive benefits or are on a low income. A guardian or someone looking after your affairs may be able to file a complaint for you.

Check if you can get legal aid (GOV.UK)

You may also be able to get legal support through your:

  • home insurance company
  • union membership
  • charity membership

Finding free or affordable legal help (Citizens Advice)

Representing yourself in court

Warning Claim within 6 months of the discrimination

You usually need to make your claim in County Court within 6 months of the discrimination, such as being refused adjustments.

Join our online community

Talk to people with similar experiences, and get advice and support from our online community.

Last reviewed by Scope on: 01/02/2024

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