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Reasonable adjustments and physical alterations - when is there a duty?

View profile for Rebecca Topping
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A recent County Court case revealed that a 64 year old man who suffers from multiple sclerosis (MS) has won a claim of disability discrimination including indirect discrimination against a management company, after it failed to make reasonable adjustments to enable him to use the leisure club and its facilities, where he lives.

The case asked whether the management company owed the claimant a duty to provide him with reasonable adjustments and this depended upon what the management company was classified as – is a management company a service provider or a landlord?

The term ‘service provider’ refers to anyone who provides goods, facilities or services to the public or to a section of the public, whether or not the said services are paid. A landlord is an individual who owns a property and permits another individual or service user to use and enjoy the rights of the property, by paying the landlord a fee. The difference between the two is quite significant as a landlord does not owe an individual a duty to make alterations to any of the property’s physical features, however, a service provider can be required to do so.

In this particular case, the management company owned a leisure club which sits within the block of flats which the claimant wished to utilise. The facilities at the club were the main reason why the claimant purchased the flat as the only type of physical activity he could do with his condition, was swimming, which also assisted with reducing his symptoms.

The claimant sent the management company a number of requests for reasonable adjustments to be made in August 2011, requesting that adaptations be made to the swimming pool to allow the claimant better and safer access to the leisure club (including the swimming pool) however these requests were rejected.

In July 2014, the claimant submitted costings for his requested adaptations to the management company, which were around the region of £5,000.00 plus VAT. It is understood that in the same month, the management company received a refund of £78,500.00 from Greenwich Council for its overpaid business rates, thus suggesting that the cost of the claimant’s requested adaptations was minimal.

Upon reviewing the management company’s function, it was held that the management company was indeed a service provider which meant that it had a duty to consider the needs of disabled people in the use of the leisure club, which potentially included altering the physical features of the club.

The court also found that the management company only applied a policy of undertaking works which benefited all residents, which indirectly placed people with disabilities at a disadvantage and in particular, the claimant in this case.

The court found that the claimant’s claims of disability discrimination and indirect discrimination were successful and the court awarded the claimant the sum of £9,000 by way of damages, for injury to his feelings. 

It is likely that there are other individuals who may be in a similar situations as the claimant was in this case, therefore this judgment may help or assist them to obtain the help that they require.

If you feel that 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. Please contact our specialist discrimination team for further advice on 01616 966 229.