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PainSmith Solicitors Legal Update - Disability Discrimination Act 1995

Disability Discrimination Act and Stairs - PainSmith* Solicitors Legal Update 23 May 2007

A recent case before the court of Appeal has clarified the position regarding the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) and it application to residential premises.

In the case of Richmond Court (Swansea) Ltd v Dorothy Williams the Court of Appeal was asked to consider whether Richmond Court had discriminated against Mrs Williams by refusing consent for her to install a stairlift. Mrs Williams is the owner of a long leasehold of a third floor flat but, at 81 years old, she has had increasing difficulty negotiating stairs. She asked her immediate landlord for permission to install a stairlift in the common stairwell to assist with her mobility problems which was to be paid for entirely by a Local Authority grant.

Permission was refused even though Richmond Court's head landlord had no objection to the stairlift being installed. The first judge concluded that discrimination had occurred and this was appealed to the Court of Appeal. In concluding that no discrimination had occurred the Court of Appeal raised some very important points.

The first of these relates to the duties required in regard to property under the DDA. An employer is under a positive duty under the DDA to make physical adjustments to work premises where a physical feature puts a disabled person at a disadvantage. The same is not true of residential property. Just because an individual is disadvantaged by some aspect of a property there is not an automatic duty to make adjustments except for certain minor auxiliary features such as furnishings or door handles.

This difference in the legislation attracted sharp commentary from the Court of Appeal and has been the subject of some criticism in commentary on this case. See for example "The Legislation Should Raise Its Game" Estates Gazette, 10 February 2007.

The second point made by the Court was a criticism of the Judge who initially heard the case and the way he had reasoned his decision. Usefully, though the Court set out a 5 stage test which should be used when deciding if there has been discrimination:

  1. Identify the treatment that is alleged to constitute discrimination
  2. Identify the reason for that treatment
  3. Determine if the reason relates to the person's disability
  4. Identify comparable persons to whom the reason does not apply
  5. Identify if the treatment is less favourable than that accorded to comparable persons

It was because the treatment of Richmond Court of Mrs Williams did not satisfy all of these tests that the Court of Appeal concluded that she had not been discriminated against. Specifically, Richmond Court made clear that no person, whatever the reason, would ever be allowed to install a stair lift in the property and, as this was not challenged by Mrs Williams, there was clearly no discrimination in this matter.

The full judgement of the Court of Appeal in this matter can be found at http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2006/1719.html. Dr David Smith is a trainee solicitor with PainSmith Solicitors, a niche practice specialising in residential landlord and tenant law. He can be contacted on 01420 565310 or by email at david@painsmith.co.uk.

PainSmith Solicitors Legal Updates are provided for information only and are not legal advice. If you do have a legal problem, you should talk to a lawyer or adviser before making a decision about what to do. You may wish to use the CLS/CDS Directory (www.justask.org.uk/public/en/directory) to locate an adviser. The information provided here is written for people resident in, or affected by, the laws of England and Wales only. You should note that date given in the update and be aware that the information given may become inaccurate due to changes in the law or its implementation.

* PainSmith Solicitors are a niche practice specialising in Landlord and Tenant Law. Based in Medstead in Hampshire, they are ideally situated to provide an efficient service to clients nationwide as well as those based in Central London and the Home Counties.

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