‘The act does nothing to protect your rights when entering a business with a guide dog or an assistance dog and business can legally turn you away.’
I run a charity organisation called Ability Access Legal, it was set up to represent people who face disability discrimination in the workplace, completely free of charge.
Since setting up this organisation, there has been a few things that have come to light over the past year and a half. The main thing that surprised me is the legislation on guide dogs and assistance dogs.
According to Guide Dogs UK they say ‘The law is clear. In England, Scotland and Wales the Equality Act means guide dog and other assistance dog owners have the right to enter most services, premises, and vehicles with their guide dog. In Northern Ireland, the Disability Discrimination Act gives guide dog owners the same rights.’
A story that caught my attention this week was about Louise Harris. Louise has an assistance dog called Bella as she has Multiple Sclerosis. Louise was turned away from a Wetherspoons pub because of her assistance dog. Louise told a newspaper that she had all the credentials for her assistance dog, but the manager of the Wetherspoons asked her to leave, full story here.
However, after speaking to a number of solicitors and barristers, this information by Guide Dogs UK is actually misleading and people are taking this as the law.
If we look at the Equality Act, 2010 on Legislation.gov.uk there is nothing in the act to say that premises such as hotels, pubs, restaurants and other businesses have to allow access for guide dogs and assistance dogs. It says that they have to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ which is open to all kinds of interpretation and does not back up the person with the assistance dog or guide dog, including Louise Harris.
Guide Dogs UK added ‘New interim Guide Dogs research found that 76% of guide dog owners have been refused access to a business or service at some point. While around half of guide dog owners (49%) said they had changed or restricted their plans because they were worried about being challenged or refused access to a business or service because of their guide dog’.
The only time in the Equality Act that it is discriminatory and breaking the law not let someone into your business, is a taxi. This is the only time the act mentions this, and then a taxi driver can refuse to take a guide dog or an assistance dog if they have a certificate to say they are allergic to dogs.
The act does nothing to protect your rights when entering a business with a guide dog or an assistance dog and business can legally turn you away. The act does not support people like Louise Harris with guide dogs or assistance dogs in accessing their communities and businesses. It means that businesses can essentially turn you away at the door and not allow you access and the only way of taking on an organisation that does turn you away, is by taking them to court.
If Louise Harris, or any other person do take it to court, I suspect that most judges in the land would support the disabled person with an assistance dog or guide dog. However, this has yet to be tested in the courts and this situation needs addressing in parliament and the Equality Act needs to be amended to include guide dogs and assistant dogs, for all businesses.
Ability Access Legal has a 100% success rate in cases, we are completely reliant on the generosity of the general public donations are welcome.