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Disability discrimination by energy suppliers

View profile for Rebecca Topping
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Landlords are your checking your EPC rating this spring?

According to recent statistics from Disabled Living Foundation, there are around 13.3 million people who have a disability, in the UK.

With the UK currently experiencing a severe shortage of housing, it is arguable that there are more people living in mortgaged or rented accommodation, than ever. This means that there are more people than ever independently engaging the services of a gas and/or energy suppliers.

If you have a disability and you have made your gas/energy supplier aware of your condition, they are under a duty to not discriminate against you under the Equality Act 2010.

You may have been discriminated against if you have suffered unfavourable treatment and have been put to a detriment, as a result of a protected characteristic, such as a disability. There are a number of protected characteristics, as defined by the Equality Act 2010 and these include:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Race
  • Sexual orientation
  • Marriage and civil partnership
  • Pregnancy and maternity
  • Gender reassignment
  • Religious beliefs
  • Disability

Section 6 of the Equality Act defines the ‘legal test’ for a condition being classified as a disability for the purpose of the act. It states that a condition must be a physical or mental impairment that has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ negative effect on an individual’s ability to complete normal day to day activities.

If you suffer from a disability which causes you to be vulnerable, for example, more so than someone who does not suffer from a disability, you may require the provision of a ‘reasonable adjustment’ to be made for you, to allow you to fully utilise and experience the services that your energy/gas supplier provides. This could include correspondence and/or bills being sent to a third party.

If any physical feature of an organisation / service provider such as an energy supplier’s premises, or other arrangements, causes a substantial disadvantage to you as a result of your disability then the provider is under a statutory duty to make reasonable adjustments to prevent it, (i.e. altering premises or offering assistance to help you to engage with their service). An organisation/ service provider is under a duty when they are aware, or should be aware, that you are suffering from a disability and are likely to suffer a disadvantage because of it.

Indirect discrimination is where a policy, criterion, or practice is applied to a group of people but ultimately, puts certain individuals at a disadvantage, as a result of a protected characteristic. For example, gas/energy suppliers can indirectly discriminate against a disabled person who does not have capacity to pay their own bills or communicate with the energy/gas supplier by applying a practice of sending all bills and correspondence to the account holder. In these circumstances they would not be considering the individual’s disability and the effects that it has upon the individual. This can have a significant detrimental effect upon an individual as they may fall into arrears with their account which could ultimately affect their credit rating.

This is something which is becoming increasingly common with energy/gas suppliers as due to the size of the organisations, they do not appear to have the capacity to tailor correspondence to an individual’s needs, which ultimately, can have a discriminatory effect upon the individual.

If you feel you have been discriminated against as a result of a protected characteristic, you may be able to bring a claim for discrimination under the terms of the Equality Act 2010, however there are strict time limits within which courts will accept such claims. Please contact our specialist discrimination team for further advice on 01616 966 229.