Equal access to local services: getting it right

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGSCO) has published a report on best practice for local authorities in England, when making reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act (EA) 2010. 

The report looks at ‘local service’ which includes the provision of housing services, and other statutory functions, for disabled people. 

The Report, ‘Equal access: getting it right for people with disabilities (May 2022)’, can be found here. 

Whilst the Report focuses on Local Authorities, the advice and best practice contained therein could be applicable – and will most certainly be useful – to all Registered Providers of Social Housing.   

The Report sets out a number of useful learning points, which stem from past complaints made to the Ombudsman and the manner in which they were resolved.   

The Equality Act 2010 requires local services to make sure that people with disabilities can access their service as easily as people without. This may involve the making of ‘reasonable adjustments’.  

The Report emphasises that it should not be necessary for those with hidden disabilities to make themselves visible to services, unless it is a personal choice to do so. Local services should be pro-active, and the duty under the Equality Act is anticipatory.  

In addition, where a person asks for reasonable adjustments to be made, local services should put these in place unless the request is not considered to be reasonable. A person should not be required to produce evidence of their disability before the adjustment is made.  

The Covid-19 pandemic prompted rapid change in terms of how local services are accessed and delivered. However, it is important to remember that online services will not be optimal for everyone, and the needs of a wide range of users should be considered when policies and procedures are being developed. 

The Report cites an example where a school chose to operate a ‘written only’ admission appeals procedure during the pandemic. The school considered this to be ‘fairer’ in comparison to conducting a video hearing, given that some appellants would not have access to technology, and/or may have a potential language barrier. However, in taking this approach, the school failed to adequately account for those persons who may have difficulty presenting a case in writing.  

The Report gives a number of further examples, which illustrate: 

  • Failure to anticipate the need for reasonable adjustments when developing policies and procedures. 
  • Failure to ask if reasonable adjustments are needed. 
  • Failure to anticipate reasonable adjustments where the council is aware of a person’s disability. 
  • Failure to make requested reasonable adjustments. 
  • Failure to make adjustments in a timely way. 
  • Failure to ensure third parties acting on behalf of local services are considering Equality Act duties. 
  • Imposing adjustments without considering individual needs. 
  • Failure to record agreed adjustments.  
  • Failure to review reasonable adjustments. 

The Report concludes by identifying a number of positive steps that Councils, care providers and other care bodies can take to improve services. These steps include: 

  • Reviewing the training needs of public-facing staff. 
  • Retaining alternative means of contact for the public when moving to automated or online-only service delivery. 
  • Ensuring that reasonable adjustments are kept under review and proactively checked with service users. 
  • Ensuring that there is a way of recording reasonable adjustments which ensures continuity of service. 
  • Ensuring that members of the public are invited to provide details of any reasonable adjustments they might need every time a service is provided. 

Contact us, we are here to help

If you have any questions about the recent Report, please do not hesitate to contact our Social Housing Team.