The Equality Act duties to anticipate the needs of disabled service users and to make reasonable adjustments extends to management companies or housing associations of private residents according to the case of James Plummer v Royal Herbert Freehold Limited , handed down at 10am today (07/06/2018) at the Central London County Court.
The case relates to inaccessible communal leisure facilities at a private property development governed by a management company comprised of residents. Mr Plummer’s Multiple Sclerosis prevented him from accessing the swimming pool and other facilities at the Royal Herbert Leisure Club, and in response to requests for reasonable adjustments he was told that there was a policy of only making adjustments which benefitted all residents/members. Since the adjustment was necessary only for residents/members with disabilities then the adjustments would not be made.
Quite rightly, the Court identified that as a policy which disadvantaged disabled people, and was therefore discriminatory. Importantly, the Court also rejected the notion that Management Companies and Housing Associations are excluded from Equality Act obligations as ‘Landlords’.
The case is one of two led by specialist Equality & Human Rights Barrister Catherine Casserley at Cloisters Chambers in London; the other being the Fry Law case of Beresford & Beresford v Welford Place Limited which is also proceeding in the Central London County Court.
Mr & Mrs Beresford have various disabilities which impair their balance and mobility. These make managing stairs very difficult. In November 2015 they purchased a leasehold house on Welford Place in London. They requested permission from the Management Company to carry out some work on the property prior to moving including the installation of an internal lift so they did not have to use the narrow stairs.
The lift was to be air pressure operated in an internal tube, with no adherence to the party walls. The lift was to be large enough for 2 people to use at a time and the noise levels to be reduced as a result of wall sound protection. Furthermore, the air turbine unit within the lift would have its own acoustic chamber and would be located in the roof space remote from the party wall.
Throughout their correspondence with Welford Place Limited, they provided evidence of the structure and the noise following the installation of the lift. They also offered to install the lift for a trial period and then submit to independent tests. However, these offers were rejected. The Management Company has relied upon a clause in the leasehold document to justify its refusal.
County Court proceedings were issued by Fry Law on 17th January 2017, but Welford Place Limited maintained a Defence of the case. Finally, and despite the continued failure of the Management Company to permit the installation of a lift in their own home, in July 2017 the Beresfords decided to move into the house that they had been paying for since November 2015. The Berefords have been struggling to cope without a lift, but it is only a matter of time before the house will become inaccessible for them. The case, strengthened by the Plummer case, will seek a declaration that the clause in the lease places the Claimants at a substantial disadvantage compared to non-disabled people in that they cannot make alterations to their premises in order to install the lift (“the alterations”) referred to in above so that they can avoid having to use the stairs in the property. We also seek an Order from the Court requiring the management company to authorise the work as a reasonable adjustment, and compensation for the impact of the policy on the Beresfords.
If you are a disabled resident, unable to access facilities on a property development managed by fellow leaseholders, you will now be able to enforce your rights to reasonable adjustments with the benefit of this precedent.