Guide Dogs

Women and Equalities written question – answered on 30th November 2022.

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Photo of Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Green

To ask His Majesty's Government what plans they have to educate the public about the legal status of guide dogs for the blind and other assistance dogs; and what steps they plan to take to penalise businesses which have failed to educate their staff about their legal status.

Photo of Baroness Stedman-Scott Baroness Stedman-Scott The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

The Equality Act 2010 (the Act) provides for protection of disabled people, including those needing assistance dogs, in employment and the supply of goods, services, public functions and in clubs and associations. It does not have universal application to the public, or in other settings, and general public education campaigns about it would not be proportionate. However, the Government runs under contract the Equality Advisory and Support Service (EASS), an equalities and human rights helpline, which receives about 35,000 customer contacts a year, more than 60% of which concern disability issues. The EASS can intervene directly with or assist the complainant to take the problem up with the relevant service provider in many cases, including those involving assistance dogs.

It is the responsibility of all businesses to ensure that they are aware of their obligations to their customers and employees under the Act. To help them in this, Government and relevant independent bodies offer a range of technical guidance and statutory codes of practice that clearly explain what businesses should and should not do to ensure that their conduct is lawful and not discriminatory.

The Act places a duty on businesses and service providers to make reasonable adjustments to improve disabled people’s access to goods and services so they are not placed at a substantial disadvantage compared to non-disabled people. This reasonable adjustment duty is an anticipatory duty therefore those who provide goods, facilities and services to members of the public are expected to anticipate the reasonable adjustments that disabled customers may require, including auxiliary aids.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) is the public body responsible for enforcing the Act. In 2017, the EHRC published two pieces of guidance - a guide to help businesses understand what they can do to meet their legal duties to assistance dog owners, and a guide to help tourism businesses welcome people with access requirements. The EHRC supports disabled individuals who have experienced discrimination to take their cases to court.

In recent years, case law has strengthened the equalities law for people with assistance dogs. There have been a number of significant cases brought under the Equality Act involving assistance dogs, which have been successfully litigated, for example, Bloch v Kassim (assistance dogs in taxis); Clutton and Williams v Pen-y-Bryn Group (assistance dogs in restaurants); and McCafferty v Miah (assistance dogs in shops).

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