Motability calls police about disabled woman who failed to return car

A disabled woman who refused to return her Motability car after she lost her eligibility for disability benefits was threatened with arrest by police officers after the company reported the vehicle as stolen.

Mary Jenkins* was approached by two police officers in the middle of a supermarket carpark on the Isle of Wight on Tuesday and told she faced arrest if she did not agree to release the car.

Jenkins and her son, Paul, have been engaged in a long-running dispute with Motability Operations – the company that runs the disabled people’s car scheme – and have lodged a complaint with the Financial Ombudsman about its behaviour.

The company finally lost patience and contacted the police to report the car as stolen.

And Motability Operations has admitted to Disability News Service (DNS) that it has taken similar steps before with other customers when they refuse to return their cars after losing their benefits.

The apparent admission is likely to create fresh controversy for Motability Operations, less than a month after MPs published a highly-critical report into the salary paid to its chief executive, Mike Betts, and the £2.4 billion it holds in financial reserves.

Jenkins, who has been a user of the scheme for more than 18 years, refused to return her Motability** vehicle after she lost her eligibility for the higher rate of the mobility part of disability living allowance (DLA) last August.

She had previously been given a lifetime DLA award, and was denied the new personal independence payment (PIP) when the government said she failed to attend a PIP assessment, when she claims she was told she did not have to attend.

She says Motability Operations has no right to reclaim the vehicle because she signed a three-year contract, which still has a year to run.

She says she has been asked twice by Motability Operations to arrange for the car to be returned but refused to do so.

She said: “I kept saying that I want an investigation and a judge to decide on the contract.”

Jenkins said the company told her she had “defaulted” on the contract, without explaining how she had defaulted on it.

Instead she has complained to Motability Operations and to the Financial Ombudsman, and has asked the Commons work and pensions select committee to investigate.

But without informing her, Motability Operations told Hampshire police to treat the car as stolen.

Jenkins and her son were then approached by two uniformed police officers who arrived in an unmarked vehicle as they were about to buy some groceries in the East Cowes branch of Waitrose on Tuesday afternoon.

She was warned that if she refused to return the car, she would be arrested. She agreed to hand over the keys and was forced to watch as the vehicle was towed away.

Then she and her son had to pay £21 for a taxi home to West Cowes.

Mary Jenkins told Disability News Service (DNS): “This was not a criminal offence.

“Why are they taking these extreme measures when we have fair questions we want answers to?”

Her son said he had spoken to a Motability Operations adviser after the police seized the car and was told the company was entitled to register it as stolen.

He said Motability had always been kept updated about where they were living.

What concerned him most, he said, was that Motability Operations failed to notify his mother that they had reported the vehicle as stolen.

Paul Jenkins said: “The police said, ‘This is on the system as a stolen car. We are obliged to immediately seize it, but we know you’re not car thieves.’

“They said, ‘If you don’t comply now, you will be arrested.’”

He said the actions of Motability Operations were “quite shocking” and “very aggressive”, had “serious ethical implications” and were a breach of its “very clear obligations and responsibilities” to users of the scheme.

A Hampshire police spokesman confirmed the incident had taken place and that the vehicle had been reported stolen.

He said: “We received a stolen vehicle report at 1.29pm on Monday 11 June from a credit management company relating to a mobility vehicle on the Isle of Wight.

“The company were informed that there were no lines of enquiry to pursue a police investigation and the incident would be filed pending any further information coming to light.

“The following day, officers came across a vehicle in the car park at Waitrose in East Cowes, Isle of Wight, which had a marker for being reported stolen.

“As such, officers acting in good faith seized the vehicle and arranged its recovery.

“Officers at the scene spoke with the vehicle owners to establish the full circumstances, and an officer spoke with the credit management company.

“Following an assessment of all information provided to us it became clear that this was a civil, not a criminal, matter.

“The vehicle owner was also advised to speak with the credit management company and to consider legal advice.

“No arrests have been made and no criminal investigation is taking place.”

Motability originally declined to discuss the case of Mary Jenkins.

But she said in a statement: “DWP assess who is eligible for qualifying allowances for the Motability scheme.

“We are only able to provide cars to someone who is in receipt of a qualifying allowance.

“If the DWP ends the award for the allowance, this means an automatic termination of the lease. We then make arrangements with the customer for the car to be returned.

“In cases where a DLA customer fails to qualify for the enhanced rate of PIP, Motability will provide transitional support of up to £2,000, and enable the customer to stay in the car for up to eight weeks to make other arrangements.

“Alternatively, the customer can choose to keep their car for 26 weeks, and receive a reduced payment, which generally allows the customer to go through the appeals process.

“Unfortunately, once these steps are exhausted, it is not possible for a customer to keep the car indefinitely with no qualifying award and we will then make arrangements with the customer for the vehicle’s return.

“The vast majority of customers are fully understanding of this process and work with us to make a mutually satisfactory arrangement.

“Occasionally, if we are repeatedly unable to recover the car, we will need to take steps to recover it through more formal processes.”

A Motability Operations spokesperson added today (Thursday) that under the terms of the lease agreement it retained ownership of the vehicle, “which is made clear to the customer within the contractual documentation”.

The spokesperson added: “Where a customer on proper notice fails to return the vehicle, which is owned by Motability Operations, we are entitled to deem the vehicle as being stolen and take appropriate steps to recover the same.

“Mrs [Jenkins’] persistent refusal to return the vehicle despite the fact that she is no longer eligible to receive a qualifying allowance, left Motability Operations with no option but to report the vehicle stolen and recover possession of the vehicle which is owned by Motability Operations.”

A spokeswoman for the Financial Ombudsman Service said: “We’re looking into this complaint against Motability.

“We review all complaints on a case by case basis, weighing up the facts, evidence and circumstances, before making a decision on [whether] a business has treated its customer fairly.”

*Not their real names

**The charity Motability, which oversees the work of Motability Operations, is a DNS subscriber

14 June 2018

 

 

Atos assessor told gay man he was ‘defective’ and needed to be cured by God

A doctor working for the government contractor Atos told a gay disabled man she was assessing for his entitlement to disability benefits that his sexuality meant he was “defective” and that God needed to fix him like a “broken” car.

Atos was forced to pay Keith Morgan compensation after he was subjected to an experience at the end of his work capability assessment (WCA) that the company later admitted was “wholly inappropriate”.

The GP told him that when a car had a problem it had to be returned to the dealer to be repaired, just as he needed to be returned to God to be cured of his homosexuality.

She then told him of a television programme that featured a gay man who had been “cured” in this way and now had nine children, and she gave him the man’s name and handed him the address of a Christian website that included details of his case.

Although the doctor disputed making some of the comments, she accepted she had told him about the television programme, asked Morgan if he wanted to “change”, and suggested the best person to help with problems in her own life was God, “the one who made and understood [her]”.

She received a formal written warning from Atos, but kept her job, and also had a warning attached to her registration by the General Medical Council, which concluded that there had been “a clear and significant departure from Good Medical Practice”.

The GP no longer works for Atos.

Atos agreed an out-of-court settlement with Morgan, from Kent, in 2013, which included a confidentiality agreement, after admitting he had been discriminated against under the Equality Act.

Lisa Coleman, an Atos senior vice president, told him in a letter in September 2013: “Atos sincerely apologises for the upset and hurt that has been caused to you as a result of [the doctor’s] comments made on the 14 August 2012.

“Atos view [is] that it is wholly inappropriate for any health care professional to behave in this manner, and appropriate management action has been taken to prevent a recurrence of the behaviour.”

She said Atos had agreed to provide “further training on diversity and discrimination” to the doctors it used for the assessment process, “with a view to ensuring, as far as possible, that the Equality Act 2010 is complied with”.

Mark Hoban, at the time the Conservative employment minister, said in a letter in September 2012 that the complaint was being treated as “serious” and that an investigation would be carried out into the doctor’s “clearly unacceptable” behaviour, while the findings would be acted on by the government.

By noon today (Thursday), the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) had not confirmed what these findings were and whether they had been acted on.

Morgan has decided that he must now speak out about the case, despite the confidentiality agreement, because of the way he has since been treated by Atos at another face-to-face assessment.

Atos lost the contract to provide WCAs three years ago but had already won contracts to provide assessments for another benefit, personal independence payment (PIP).

Morgan believes the way he has been treated by Atos – both in 2012 and this year – amounts to harassment and that the company has in effect breached its legal agreement with him.

His experience with this year’s PIP assessment is just the latest of hundreds of cases of alleged dishonesty by PIP assessors working for Atos and Capita, many of which emerged during a lengthy investigation by Disability News Service (DNS).

Morgan told DNS this week that the nurse who conducted his PIP assessment in March repeatedly downplayed the impact of his health conditions on his daily life and mobility, ignored written evidence, and kept cutting him off when he tried to explain how his impairments affected him.

She refused to let him read from his notes, told him not to to respond to her questions in too much depth because she was likely to forget what he had said, and told him she was running late and needed to “catch up”.

She also misreported the results of a physical examination and how he was dressed and behaved during the assessment, said Morgan.

A friend who accompanied him to the assessment has submitted a written statement to Atos, telling the company that the assessment was “unprofessionally handled” and that “Keith tried desperately to hand over documentation throughout the assessment but the assessor always refused to take them”.

His friend said she was “appalled” at the inaccuracy of the assessor’s description of the examination of his mental state and found the nurse’s description of the physical test “hard to believe”.

She added: “It was obvious to me that Keith was in severe pain during the assessment regardless of whether he was standing or sitting.”

The nurse wrote in her report that Morgan “did not show any signs of pain”.

The assessor concluded that he had “no significant functional restriction”, even though he continues to receive the out-of-work disability benefit employment and support allowance (ESA), and is in the ESA support group, for those who face the most significant barriers to work.

Only 12 months previously, he had been found eligible for the standard rate of the daily living element of PIP. Since then he has been diagnosed with four more physical impairments.

He now has a string of health conditions, including anxiety, agoraphobia, OCD, diabetes, osteoarthritis, spondylitis and fibromyalgia, and experiences chronic pain.

Atos even refused to look at the papers from his 2013 court case, which he says would also have shown the level of his impairment.

As a result of his latest assessment, DWP removed his entitlement to PIP on 17 April, a decision he is now asking to be reviewed through the mandatory reconsideration process.

He has also lodged a complaint about the assessor with the Nursing and Midwifery Council.

He believes the assessment was part of the company’s “continued attempts to bully and harass” him.

In a response to his complaint to the company, an Atos client relations officer passed on a brief statement from the assessor, in which the nurse denied all his claims and said she had followed DWP guidance.

She claimed that she “took time to listen and document what Mr Morgan said” and “listened to Mr Morgan with empathy and was not rushed through the assessment”.

The Atos client relations officer said in the letter that “as we were not present at the assessment and there is no definitive evidence available to show that the actions you have outlined have taken place, we can only advise that we have been unable to reconcile the issues raised.

“I can assure you that where a definite conclusion can be drawn, actions such as the ones described are not considered to be compatible with our professional standards.”

A DWP spokeswoman said that Morgan’s experiences with Atos did not suggest that the assessment system was not fit for purpose.

She said: “We’re committed to ensuring that disabled people get the full support that they need, and under PIP 30 per cent of people are getting the highest rate of support, compared with 15 per cent under disability living allowance.

“Assessments work well for the vast majority of people, but one person’s poor experience is one too many, and we’re committed to continuously improving the process for people so that they get the support they need.”

An Atos spokesman said the company was unable to comment on the 2012 assessment because of the confidentiality agreement.

In relation to Morgan’s complaint about the PIP assessment, he said: “We are aware of a complaint and as it is currently under investigation it would be inappropriate to comment further.”

But Morgan said his latest PIP assessment was “a complete joke”.

He said: “I am so sick to death of it now. I feel that every chance they get they lie, and I don’t want to live my life like that.

“I am ill enough already, I struggle with day-to-day living and it is getting harder without the added stress.

“I want to concentrate on my health but how do they ever expect me to make progress?

“They are not trying to be fair and honest. These people are supposed to be qualified nurses.

“How do they live with themselves, knowing they are harming the very people they are supposed to care for?”

He added: “I did it all the right way last time but this time I said I wanted it all out in the public domain. I just need to get it out there.

“They are ruining what little life I have, and I am tired of dealing with it. I just don’t have the strength.”

14 June 2018

 

 

Young woman evicted from care home while critically ill in hospital

A young disabled woman was told that she had been evicted from her residential home while she lay critically ill in hospital.

The care home in Barking, east London, run by the company Sahara Care, had originally issued the eviction notice to Lakhvinder Kaur in a letter on 6 April, just days after she had made an allegation of physical abuse against a member of staff at the home.

In the same letter in which the company told her that it had referred her abuse allegation to the care watchdog, the local council and the police, it also told her that it was giving her 28 days’ notice to leave the home, Sahara Parkside.

Several weeks later, Kaur, who has spinal muscular atrophy, was rushed to hospital with blood poisoning.

Just days after she was admitted, on 28 May, and while still fighting for her life, the care company told her she would not be allowed to return to Sahara Parkside when she was released from hospital.

Kaur has been trying since last year to find accessible accommodation that will allow her to live independently and safely with the support she needs.

And because her local authority Newham council has not been able to find somewhere safe and appropriate for her to live, the hospital that treated her has itself told the council that it needs to evict her because she has now recovered from the blood poisoning.

She told the council in an email: “My current situation worries me because each time I am admitted to ICU [the intensive care unit] my chance of recovery is reduced and increases my risk of death.

“This risk could be better managed if my housing and care package was addressed.”

She also told her social worker: “I believe I have valid reasons to express my deep and worrying concerns about my hospital discharge particularly when there is so much uncertainty and unknowns around my housing and support package.”

She has now been told that she will have to move temporarily into a hotel room when she leaves hospital.

Her case highlights once again the drastic shortage of accessible housing across the country.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission said only last month that disabled people had been left “demoralised and frustrated” by the housing system and faced a “chronic shortage” of accessible homes.

Kaur has been trying to persuade the council that she needs a two-bed flat to provide the space she needs to comply with employment law for her personal assistants, and to ensure her own health and safety, as well as her need for privacy, and space to store vital medication and equipment.

She believes that the continuing struggle to ensure the support she needed at Sahara Parkside contributed to the illness that left her in intensive care.

A spokeswoman for Newham council said: “We are working to find an interim property for Laki to move in to when she is discharged from hospital so Laki can get the support she needs. This is whilst we find her a permanent home.”

She said the council “recognises there is a chronic shortage of housing across the country”.

But when asked if the council accepted that the continuing failure to find her accessible housing and provide the support she needs were breaches of her rights under article six (on disabled women) and article 19 (on independent living) of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the spokeswoman denied that the council “has any direct responsibility for the implementation of any of the rights” under the convention.

She said: “Even if it did have such responsibilities, in its view there have been no breaches by the council of articles 6 or 19.

“The issue in this case is the shortage of properties, particularly in London.”

She added: “The borough in which the safeguarding issue arose investigates the complaint.

“As Sahara Homes is based in Barking and Dagenham, it would be for that local authority to carry out the investigation. Newham is chasing for the outcome of this investigation.”

Kaur has been trying for eight years to secure a proper care package that will keep her safe, and allow her to live in her own home, manage her own support, and enjoy the typical social life of a woman in her 20s.

Instead, she has had to move from one inappropriate care home and supported living setting to another.

Last November, Disability News Service reported how she had been left been unable to leave Sahara Parkside for nearly three weeks because its managers were trying to evict her for complaining about her care, and for her attempts to enjoy a proper social life.

Managers at the home even threatened to change the security code on the entrance if she left the building, and they tried twice – unsuccessfully – to persuade the police to evict her.

Sahara said this week that it could not discuss individual cases.

14 June 2018

 

 

DWP in disarray as fresh legal defeat could mean fourth trawl through its records

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) looks set to carry out a fourth major search through its records to find disabled people who have been unfairly deprived of benefits, following the latest in a series of damaging legal defeats.

Today (Thursday), the high court ruled that DWP had unlawfully discriminated against two disabled men who each lost disability premiums worth £178 per month when they moved to a new local authority area and were forced to transfer onto the new universal credit.

Both TP and AR had been receiving severe disability premium (SDP) and enhanced disability premium (EDP) to help with their additional care needs, but these premiums are not available under universal credit.

The drop in their income had a devastating impact on the two men, the court had heard.

In his ruling, Mr Justice Lewis announced this morning that the government had discriminated against the two men under the European Convention on Human Rights, saying that the impact of the policy on the two men was “manifestly without reasonable foundation and fails to strike a fair balance”.

Two other claims – that DWP had breached the Equality Act, and that regulations introduced in 2013 discriminated against disabled people with high support needs who live alone with no carer compared to other disabled people with high support needs – were rejected.

TP, who is terminally-ill, said he was “delighted” by the court’s decision and felt “vindicated” in bringing the judicial review.

He said the case “casts a dark shadow on the fairness of the universal credit system”.

He added: “In my 51st year my life was completely and suddenly thrown upside down with the diagnosis of a life-changing end stage non-Hodgkin Lymphoma cancer.

“Having had a successful career, I became reliant on financial support from the welfare system.

“To add to the stress of being seriously ill and undergoing very arduous treatments that have left me unable to work, I have had to take time off convalescing to fight in the courts for subsistence level benefits.

“In being compelled to migrate to universal credit, where I lost the severe disability premium, I was deprived of a key mainstay of support for a disabled person living alone with no carer.

“The financial strain from the cutting of the SDP has made it so much harder for me to cope as it has been an additional daily stress. It has been detrimental to my health.”

AR added: “I know a lot of people have been awaiting the outcome of this hearing as so many people have been badly affected by the roll out of universal credit.

“I know it is a time of austerity, but I do not understand why the government are trying to penny-pinch with what is a relatively small and very vulnerable group, namely, severely disabled people without a carer.

“I thought we lived in a society where as a vulnerable group we would be protected, not unlawfully discriminated against.”

Tessa Gregory, a partner at legal firm Leigh Day, who represented both claimants, said: “Today’s decision shows again that universal credit is not delivering what was promised at the outset.

“It is not working. It’s not working for [disabled people], it’s not working for parents, it’s not working for low-income and part-time employees and it’s not working for the self-employed.

“The government needs to halt the rollout and completely overhaul the system to meet people’s needs, not condemn them to destitution. If this doesn’t happen, further legal challenges will inevitably follow.”

Esther McVey, the work and pensions secretary, asked for permission to appeal but that was rejected by the court.

Disabled activists from grassroots groups including Disabled People Against Cuts and WinVisible were outside the high court this morning on behalf of claimants who have lost SDP and EDP after being forced onto universal credit.

Claire Glasman, from WinVisible, welcomed the court’s ruling.

She said: “[TP and AR] should never have been put through this in the first place.

“Universal credit as a whole is a disaster, a draconian system making people destitute, so we want it scrapped.”

The two premiums are currently added to some means-tested benefits to help with the extra costs of disability.

DWP had appeared to be in disarray this week, in advance of the court’s ruling, after its press office took nearly three days to provide answers – and secure clearance from officials – to a series of simple questions about the premiums that had been submitted by Disability News Service (DNS).

DNS has already been forced to complain to the Information Commissioner’s Office about DWP’s refusal to offer a detailed description of how the introduction of universal credit – and the loss of the premiums – will impact disabled people financially.

Only last week, DWP refused to say how many disabled people who need support to take medication and monitor their health condition would be likely to receive backdated personal independence payment (PIP) following another serious legal error by the department.

That followed earlier errors relating to PIP claimants who experience mental distress when making or planning a journey, and the botched migration of former incapacity benefit claimants to the new employment and support allowance (ESA).

Today’s court ruling – following an announcement by McVey on 7 June – apparently now means DWP will have to embark on a fourth major trawl through its records to identify claimants of disability benefits who have lost out financially because of its legal errors.

McVey said in last week’s written statement that DWP would stop moving claimants of SDP onto universal credit until the introduction of so-called transitional protection, which will be introduced next year.

And she said that all those who have already lost out through such a move onto universal credit would receive backdated payments to compensate for that loss, until transitional protection is introduced.

But she did not mention EDP claimants in her statement.

Figures published by DWP this week suggest that, in February this year, there were 4,000 SDP claimants, and 14,000 EDP claimants (including 3,000 who received both EDP and SDP), who have moved onto universal credit.

A DWP spokesman refused to say why McVey failed to mention EDP claimants in her statement.

But he confirmed that DWP estimated that about 4,000 claimants would benefit from the SDP announcement.

Despite the court case, he denied that the decision to provide payments to 4,000 former SDP claimants was because of “a legal error” and appeared to suggest that McVey’s written statement was unconnected to today’s legal ruling.

He said: “We have always been clear that we are rolling [out] universal credit on a listen and learn approach, making changes along the way.

“This is part of that approach and comes on top of the £1.5 billion improvements to universal credit for people moving onto universal credit we announced at the budget.”

And he refused to say how DWP justified not providing equivalent levels of support to new disabled claimants of universal credit, who will not be entitled to the transitional protection next year and so will receive lower levels of support than those transferred onto universal credit from legacy benefits such as income-related ESA.

He said: “Transitional protection will be there for those with existing premiums who are moved over to universal credit as part of the managed migration process, whose overall universal credit entitlement would be less than under the old system, provided that their circumstances remain the same.

“This means at the time they move, their financial situation remains steady.”

He also refused to explain why DWP has still not been able to detail – in response to the freedom of information request – the exact financial impact universal credit will have on disabled people who would previously have received EDP and SDP.

14 June 2018

 

 

Call for national research as fears grow over loss of DPOs

There is an “urgent” need for research into the hidden issue of disabled people’s organisations across the country that are being forced to close because of funding problems, say campaigners.

Shaping Our Lives (SOL), the national network of service users and disabled people, spoke out this week after further “worrying” figures showing the falling number of user-led organisations.

SOL is seeking funding, and partners, for a major piece of research to uncover the scale of the problem.

Its own figures suggest that more than 60 user-led groups that were members of its network have been forced to close since 2014.

Those figures come just weeks after the National Survivor User Network (NSUN) was facing possible closure because of funding problems, although it later secured £60,000 short-term funding from two grant-making bodies to allow it to stay open for the rest of the year.

NSUN warned in March 2017 that 221 of its 822 members – most of them user-led groups and all of them smaller, voluntary sector mental health groups in England – had closed since January 2015.

Shaping Our Lives told Disability News Service that there was “increasing evidence” that the problems facing NSUN were “just the tip of the iceberg”.

Professor Peter Beresford, SOL’s co-chair, said that user-led organisations (ULOs) – often the third sector organisations that are most valued by disabled people – “undoubtedly seem to be facing a worsening environment” because of government cuts.

He said this was happening at a “critically difficult” time for disabled people, with “worsening welfare reform and social care service reductions”.

He added: “There are no official efforts even to monitor the scale of the problem and the effects it is evidently having.”

He said that Shaping Our Lives was “committed to undertaking a large-scale survey to get a clearer picture of the scale of the problem”, which he said was “of urgent importance and should be a priority for funding organisations”.

He said: “We would be happy to partner an academic institution to build such a reliable and up-to-date body of evidence.

“Meanwhile it would be a terrible mistake to suggest that lack of evidence means lack of problems for countless valued local ULOs and the disabled people who have depended on them.

“We cannot continue to ignore this major problem.”

Eamon Andrews, SOL’s network officer, said the figures were “worrying”.

He said: “Disabled groups are constantly concerned about future funding and their energies are spent looking for and applying for funds.

“With reduced services and the lost expertise this makes it difficult to sustain any presence in an ever-increasing hostile environment.

“This impedes what service-user groups do and what is necessary, which is to support and empower the service-user voice, which in turn makes it increasingly difficult to challenge the daily onslaught of the erosion of the rights of disabled people.”

He pointed out that organisations that took part in a review of the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector in 2016 “described a constant battle between their missions set by their communities, and their need to chase funding priorities set elsewhere”.

Inclusion London, which supports Deaf and disabled people’s organisations across London, said it had been concerned “for a number of years” about the threat to Deaf and disabled people’s organisations (DDPOs) “in the current climate”.

Tracey Lazard, Inclusion London’s chief executive, said: “There are now a number of London boroughs without any DDPO.

“There is also the issue of increased strain on those that remain as they battle increased demand with funding cuts and growing fear of reprisals for speaking out against their local councils.

“We know that DDPOs provide significant added value alongside the benefits of peer-led approaches but too often we now see commissioners focused on short-term budget savings to the exclusion of all else.

“There needs to be a better understanding of the benefits of investing in our sector and we would like to see use of procurement regulations that allow commissioners to ring-fence tenders to user-led organisations.”

The Department for Work and Pensions had failed to say by noon today (Thursday) whether the Office for Disability Issues was aware of and concerned about the closure of DPOs, and whether it was taking any action.

14 June 2018

 

 

Disabled lawyers face widespread discrimination, say researchers

Disabled people in the legal profession are facing widespread discrimination, with outdated working practices and a failure to provide them with the support they need, according to early results from a ground-breaking piece of research.

The initial findings of the Legally Disabled? research project show that disabled people seeking jobs or working in the legal profession are “an untapped resource”.

They have often been attracted to a career in the law because of “a strong passion for human rights and fairness”, and their lived experience of disability has led to “strong ambition, tenacity, determination and excellent problem-solving skills”.

But positive experiences of “support, good attitudes and appropriate reasonable adjustments are a lottery”, say the researchers.

The early findings of the research have come from eight focus groups of disabled legal professionals, including judges, barristers and solicitors.

A “large proportion” of those who took part in the focus groups said they had faced disability discrimination.

The aims of the research, which is being conducted by Professor Debbie Foster, of Cardiff University Business School, and independent researcher Dr Natasha Hirst, are to explore the barriers to employment and career progression and examine ways in which they have been addressed successfully.

They then hope to identify ways in which the legal profession can become more inclusive and accessible for disabled people.

Foster and Hirst say there has previously been no research into the disadvantage faced by disabled people in the legal profession, despite similar research into gender and racial disadvantage.

Now they are looking for disabled legal professionals from England and Wales who are in, or are seeking entrance to, the legal profession, or those who have left the industry, to take part in one-to-one interviews*.

The project is funded through the five-year, £5 million Disability Research on Independent Living and Learning (DRILL) research programme.

The researchers say the profession is “generally poorly equipped” to make the reasonable adjustments that are needed for disabled candidates who apply for a training contract or pupillage (an apprenticeship to a barrister).

This failure to make reasonable adjustments – such as offering part-time contracts – blocks talented disabled candidates from entering the profession, say Foster and Hirst.

Discrimination is a particular problem at the interview stage, they say.

Opportunities are limited by “inflexible, often outdated working practices and the absence of imaginative job design”, while disabled people feel they are unfairly seen as not being “profitable”, productive or able to meet targets.

The value disabled people can add as lawyers is often overlooked, the researchers were told in the focus groups.

When career progression has been achieved, it is often because of “strong role models, supportive senior colleagues and the presence of mentors and networks”.

The researchers are working in co-production with the Lawyers with Disabilities Division of The Law Society and a research reference group of disabled people from across the legal profession.

Jane Burton, chair of the Lawyers with Disabilities Division, said: “Our members are talented individuals, yet many employers fail to recognise the valuable skills and experiences that disabled people can bring to their workplace.

“Some firms still seem to fear employing disabled people. Co-producing this research is a great opportunity to influence culture change across the legal profession.”

DRILL is funded by the Big Lottery Fund, and delivered by Disability Rights UKDisability Action (in Northern Ireland), Inclusion Scotland and Disability Wales.

It is believed to be the world’s first major research programme led by disabled people and should eventually fund about 40 pieces of research and pilot projects.

*They can be contacted by email at info@legallydisabled.com

14 June 2018

 

 

TransPennine performs sharp U-turn on train access after protest threat

A train operator that planned to run mainline rail services that wheelchair-users would not have been able to access has been forced to abandon its plans after it faced threats of a protest by disabled activists.

Disability News Service revealed last month that TransPennine Express (TPE) was planning to introduce two extra trains, each with four carriages – all of which would have been inaccessible to wheelchair-users – onto the line between Liverpool and Scarborough as a temporary measure.

Leaked documents showed that 12 services every weekday would have been run from next month using the “Mark Three” trains, without any provision for wheelchair-users.

But following widespread anger among disabled people – and a planned protest by Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People (GMCDP) and Manchester Disabled People Against Cuts (MDPAC) – TPE has abandoned its plans.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission had also expressed concern about TPE’s plans.

TPE said in a statement that, following discussions with the Department for Transport and Rail North Partnership, it had decided not to introduce any Mark Three trains into passenger service.

It said in the statement: “The two additional trains were originally planned to be brought in on a temporary basis later this year to carry customers on the route between: Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds and Scarborough, but will now instead be used exclusively to support our driver training programme for our new trains introduction.”

The first of its new Nova trains are set to begin running from this autumn.

Doug Paulley, a leading rail access campaigner, who was told about the leaked documents and first alerted Disability News Service to TPE’s plans last month, said: “I’m relieved and thank them for making the right decision.

“It’s amazing what can happen when disabled people make a noise.”

But he also revealed that he had been subjected to a “considerable backlash” on social media because of his role in raising the issue, with critics saying that disabled activists were being “unreasonable and militant”, and that the temporary services would have eased overcrowding, including for disabled people who do not use wheelchairs.

They also told him that access improvements were “disproportionately expensive” and only benefit a small number of people, and they blamed disabled people for fare rises.

But Paulley said: “Disabled people are not responsible for the lack of sufficient stock, accessible or otherwise, nor are we being unreasonable in demanding accessibility, so any complaints about overcrowding should be directed to the rail industry and not us.”

Brian Hilton, GMCDP’s digital campaigns officer, said: “Whilst it is excellent news, and much thanks to Disability News Service for highlighting this issue, it’s indicative of the current climate.

“The fact that TransPennine thought that they could get away with this shows how much the rights of disabled people have been eroded over recent years.

“The government doesn’t seem to care about public transport or the barriers faced by disabled people using trains, buses, trams, etc.

“Maybe it’s not that surprising then that TransPennine thought it could treat disabled passengers with such disregard in the first place.”

Rick Burgess, a member of MDPAC and GMCDP, said: “TPE showed sense in correcting their bad decision.

“Part of that process should be to change its decision-making structures so it cannot produce such a bad policy again.

“And I would hope people realise accessibility is advantageous for everyone as it demands a higher standard of public transport as an essential utility, not a for-profit race to the bottom.”

Stephen Brookes, the minister for disabled people’s rail sector champion for disabled people, said he was “delighted” by TPE’s decision.

He said he believed the decision had been influenced by meetings with senior TPE staff that had been organised by disabled people in the north-west, although he has not said who those disabled people were.

He said: “This is the model which I am promoting in my role as the minister’s disability rail sector champion and is the less confrontational but more successful and constructive way of working with the rail industry to create change for all disabled people, including those with hidden disabilities.”

14 June 2018

 

 

Landmark court ruling over leisure club’s inaccessible swimming pool

A company that runs a leisure club on a luxury housing estate discriminated against a disabled man by repeatedly refusing to make the adjustments that would allow him to use the swimming pool, according to a court’s “landmark” judgment.

James Plummer has secured the legal judgement after an “epic struggle” that has lasted nearly seven years.

The main reason he and his wife moved to a flat on the Royal Herbert Pavilions estate was that it would allow him to use its leisure club, which included a heated pool.

Swimming is the only type of physical activity he can enjoy, because of his multiple sclerosis.

From August 2011, the Plummers sent repeated emails asking for adaptations that would make access to the pool easier and safer for him, but they were all rejected.

The management company that runs the estate and owns the leisure club – Royal Herbert Freehold (RHF) – told them that it only carried out improvements that would benefit all residents.

RHF even sent a survey to all residents of Royal Herbert Pavilions asking for their opinion on Plummer’s requests for adaptations.

Central London County Court concluded that this survey was “humiliating”, “reinforced existing prejudices” and “should never have been circulated”.

It said this was just one of a series of “humiliating and demeaning” obstacles and hurdles that were placed in Plummer’s path by RHF.

In 2014, Plummer submitted costings for work to make the leisure club more accessible to him, following an audit which found that it would cost only about £5,000 plus VAT.

That same month, Greenwich council agreed to refund the club £78,000 in overpaid business rates, but Royal Herbert still refused to carry out the work.

The court said there needed to be a “sea change in attitude” towards disabled people by Royal Herbert and found that it had subjected Plummer to indirect discrimination.

The court found that the management company was acting as a service provider, and not as a landlord, and so had an “anticipatory duty” under the Equality Act to consider adjustments for disabled people.

It found that RHF had breached that duty to make reasonable adjustments and had been discriminatory in the works it carried out.

The court awarded Mr Plummer £9,000 in damages for injury to feelings, which is believed to be the highest award for such a claim.

A landlord would have had no such duty to make reasonable adjustments, although the government finally agreed in March that it would bring into force long-awaited laws – under the Equality Act – that will impose a duty on landlords to allow disabled tenants to make access improvements to the common areas of residential properties.

Plummer said: “From the beginning I could see that RHP were unwilling to help, as they seemed to regard my needs as a distraction.

“This epic struggle has worn me out over the last five years. My health has declined and paying for a facility I cannot use has been upsetting.”

Leigh Day, the legal firm that represented Plummer, said the case could help other disabled people in accommodation with leisure facilities that are managed by a management company or housing association.

Nick Day, from Leigh Day, said: “This is an incredibly powerful moral and legal victory for Mr Plummer, and vindication for the claim he pursued.

“All Mr Plummer wanted to do was use a swimming pool, not only for the simple enjoyment of swimming, but because it was the only physical activity he could do.

“Mr Plummer just wanted a level playing-field, and this was denied him for years.

“This denial not only isolated him, and caused him to have to go through protracted and complex legal proceedings, but also had a significant impact on his well-being.”

He said the judgment “should now be a warning to all management companies and housing associations operating a leisure facility in a similar manner that they must make the reasonable adjustments for the benefits of a disabled resident”.

A spokesperson for the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which helped fund Plummer’s case, said: “The Equality and Human Rights Commission supported this case as it highlighted a gap in the law around reasonable adjustments and it wanted to ensure management companies are aware of their responsibilities to help disabled people overcome barriers.

“The commission is considering follow-up action with RHF Ltd.”

An RHF spokesman declined to comment because he said the judgement was “still in discussion with the board”.

14 June 2018

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com