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Services: Complaints and going to court

This page looks at making a complaint under the rules about services to the public, public authority functions, or private members' clubs.

Helpful links

Complain to the provider

I suggest you should at least complain to the relevant business or organisation. Whilst most people won't want to bring a legal claim, if you tell the provider it lets them know that their customer service is not at the level it should be and may well lead them to take steps to correct this, such as staff training.

You could email or write a letter. Or if the company has a Facebook page you might want to complain on that. This makes the complaint more public and may put greater pressure on the organisation. You could also post something on twitter, including the company's twitter name.

You could also post your experience on British Stammering Association's closed Facebook group www.facebook.com/groups/stammeringbsa to get support and ideas.

Mirror articleNews report: Coffee shop mocks stammer on customer's cup (January 2017)
Starbucks asks a customer's name when he or she orders a drink, and writes it on the cup. In this particular case, when the customer stammered on his name the barista allegedly wrote RRR...ichard on the cup. The customer found this extremely offensive and humiliating. He complained on the Starbucks Facebook page. The barista was suspended pending disciplinary action, and Starbucks apologised to the customer. (Reported in the Mirror 20/1/17, Daily Mail 20/1/17.)

Case study: helpline laughing and saying 'You can talk perfectly well if you want to'
A person who stammers rang a public helpline. The lady at the other end laughed at her as she was trying to speak. When the caller said that wasn't acceptable, the lady replied: "You see, you can talk perfectly well when you want to!" The caller wrote to the helpline who responded excellently. They listened to their tape of the conversation and the lady was taken off the helpline for re-training. They also contacted the British Stammering Association for information to help them build stammering into their general training courses for helpline staff.

See more examples on Services: Examples of discrimination>Rudeness or mockery, which illustrate how complaining can produce positive results.

Advice

Equality Advisory and Support Service

Remember you can contact the Equality Advisory and Support Service (EASS).

Legal advice

You may or may not wish to get legal advice, or approach a relevant organisation (see my web page on Sources of Help and Advice, some of which are free). As well as helping you, legal representation (or even just preliminary legal advice) may help establish favourable precedents for people who stammer. Any cost obviously needs to be considered.

A law firm particularly prominent in bringing services cases under the Equality Act is Fry Law (www.frylaw.co.uk) in Sheffield, led by Chris Fry.

In some cases the Equality and Human Rights Commission may occasionally assist in bringing proceedings (see page on EHRC).

Asking questions

Asking questions can be very useful to help a claimant decide whether it is worth bringing a case in the first place, and if so how to formulate and present a case most effectively. It may also in some cases encourage a service provider to settle, if answering the questions makes it apparent that the organisation will have difficulty defending the case. The formal 'questions procedure' has been abolished for discrimination which happened on or after 6th April 2014, but one can still ask questions. See Proving discrimination: Asking questions.

Going to court

If you wish to go on to court, any proceedings will normally go to the County Court, or the sheriff court in Scotland (EqA s.114). Court proceedings must usually be started within six months unless the court extends the period (EqA s.118). Claims in respect of employment services go to an employment tribunal.

In practice very few cases on services seem to go to court. See Proposed Changes:Equality Tribunals (particularly 'Work and Pensions Committee report' and 'Disability Rights Commission views') on difficulties that seem to deter many people from going to court.

For some points on evidence, see Proving discrimination. That includes for example a short discussion on burden of proof, and a rule that may reverse the burden of proof: see Proving discrimination: Burden of proof.

I am not going to talk about how to run a court case. There are some resources above under Helpful links.

Costs

On some issues as regards costs and a campaign to make the position fairer, see the Equal Justice campaign: www.slideshare.net/slideshow/embed_code/37759961

Victimisation

There are rules against victimisation to help protect people bringing or involved in proceedings under the Act.

Remedies

Compensatory payment

Where there is a breach of the Equality Act, the main legal remedy is money compensation. Most or all of the compensation is normally for 'injury to feelings' (s.119(4) EqA).

The court in Purves v Joydisk Ltd (2003, below) said that £750 was the least that might nowadays be awarded. The former Disability Rights Commission said (on its website and in its June 2003 Legal Bulletin linked below) that awards usually ranged from £1000 upwards.

Purves v Joydisk Ltd, Court of Session, 25 February 2003
This was an appeal in Scotland against an award of £350 for injury to feelings. The appeal court increased the award to £1000. The Sheriff Principal commented: ?the sum of £750 is the least that may nowadays be awarded for the slightest injury to feelings, deserving of damages, which is caused by discrimination on the ground of disability?.
Source Disability Rights Commission Legal Bulletin (pdf, on leeds.ac.uk), June 2003.

For more examples, see below Examples of cases on compensation.

The 'Vento bands', developed for employment cases, have been taken into account by County Courts when determining compensation for injury to feelings.

If you do not want compensation yourself, you could consider asking the service provider to make a donation of an agreed amount to charity. (Please consider the British Stammering Association: www.stammering.org). Whilst a donation to charity is not something the legislation provides for, you can say you are only willing to give up your Equality Act rights if the charitable donation (of £x) is made.

In the Royal Bank of Scotland case (below), as well as a compensation payment, an injunction was awarded requiring the bank to take steps to remedy the lack of disabled access.

There is brief information in paragraphs 14.54-55 of the Services Code on the possibility of aggravated or exemplary damages in England and Wales. (See also on my employment remedies page: Aggravated or exemplary damages).

Apology, and changing the organisation

You might also (or instead) want a letter of apology, and perhaps an assurance that things will change within the organisation, eg through better staff training.

The British Stammering Association may also be able to help improve the awareness of the orgnisation about stammering (www.stammering.org/help-information/we-can-help-our-services/helpline).

Examples of cases on compensation

Hosegood v Khalid [2012] EqLR 1114
A wheelchair user was unable to wheel his chair into a restaurant himself, but was forced to accept assistance to get up a step from from the pavement. The County Court only had to consider the amount of compensation, as the restaurant's defence to the claim had been struck out. The court reviewed various cases and awarded compensation for injury to feelings of £3,000, approximately mid-way in the lowest Vento band. The claimant here strove to be as independent as possible, allowing only his wife to touch his wheelchair, and had been assured by the restaurant on the phone that there was wheelchair access. It was the first time the claimant and his wife had been out for a meal for a year. He was still 'consumed' by the incident nearly a year afterwards. The court also awarded £500 by way of aggravated damages "for the insulting and abusive way in which the Defendant responded to the claim and failed to engage with the Claimant or his representative in relation to this incident."
County court disability discrimination decision (link to blog.rubensteinpublishing.com)

Royal Bank of Scotland v Allen, 2009, Court of Appeal
A bank was held to be in breach of its duty to make reasonable adjustments, for failing to make one of its branches wheelchair accessible. The case is of particular interest because the court granted an injunction, requiring the bank to install a lift for wheelchair users. The court also awarded the claimant damages of £6,500 for injury to feelings. The facts included a number of failed attempts at access to the bank. Because of the long period of discrimination, and the embarassment caused by the bank, the County Court judge was satisfied that the case fell into the middle band under the Vento principles.

Ross v Ryanair, 2004
Mr Ross was charged for the provision of a wheelchair to get from the check-in point at Stansted airport to the plane. This was held to be unlawful discrimination, and the compensation award included £1000 for injury to feelings. The court cited Purves v Joydisk above which had said: "£750 is the least that may now days be awarded for the very slightest injury to feelings, deserving of damages, caused by discrimination on the ground of disability."

Claiming against individuals and others involved

Employees, agents and others aiding discrimination can be liable as well as the relevant business.

The service provider is responsible for anything done by employees in the course of their employment, or by agents acting within their authority. In the case of discrimination by an employee, the responsible body does have a defence if it took such steps as were reasonably practicable to prevent the actions.

Even if the responsible body has a defence, agents and employees may be personally liable.

There are also rules against people aiding, instructing, causing or inducing discrimination.

For the more on the provisions dealing with these issues, see my page Discrimination: who is liable under the Equality Act.

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© Allan Tyrer 1999-2017
Last updated 21st December, 2012
 (partial update 16th February 2017)