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When must public authorities make reasonable adjustments?

This advice applies to Scotland

Public authorities, like the police or a local authority, must take steps to remove the barriers you face because of your disability when they carry out their work. The Equality Act 2010 calls this the duty to make reasonable adjustments.

Some of the things public authorities do are services to the public - for example, the provision of libraries or leisure facilities. Other things they do count as public functions under the Equality Act.

Read this page to find out more about public authorities’ duty to make reasonable adjustments when they carry out public functions.

When must a public authority make reasonable adjustments?

A public authority has a duty to make reasonable adjustments if:

  • you’re disadvantaged by something because of your disability, and
  • it’s reasonable to make the changes to remove the disadvantage.

Public authorities must consider in advance what they need to do to ensure disabled people generally aren’t disadvantaged when they carry out their public functions. They mustn’t wait for you to ask them.

Example

Your local police force has a policy of not carrying dogs in their cars except for police dogs. You’re disabled and have an assistance dog. When you’re arrested you’re not allowed to take your assistance dog with you in the car which you find very distressing.

The policy means you have a worse experience when arrested than other people who don’t need assistance dogs. Allowing you to take your dog with you in the car would be a reasonable adjustment for the police to make.

What are public functions?

Public functions include things like law enforcement, tax collection or decisions about benefits.

When is something reasonable?

What’s a reasonable step to ask for can vary and will depend on things like:

  • your disability
  • the size and resources of the public authority
  • how practicable the changes are
  • if the change you ask for would overcome the disadvantage you and other disabled people experience
  • if the change is what's needed or is more than necessary.

Reasonable adjustments when the public authority provides services

Public authorities also have a duty to make reasonable adjustments when they provide services.

What must a public authority do?

Change the way things are done

A public authority may have a certain way of doing things, like a policy, rule or practice, which disadvantages you if you’re disabled. The Equality Act calls these things provisions, criterions and practices. The public authority should change these things unless it’s unreasonable to do so.

Examples of rules or polices which you might ask to change include:

  • appointment booking systems
  • how a public authority communicates with you - in writing, on the phone or online
  • application processes - for example, if you want to apply for a benefit
  • a blanket policy - for example, one that disadvantages you if have a learning difficulty.

Example

You have mental health problems and a phobia of opening letters. HMRC have been writing to you about some unpaid taxes they say you owe them. Because of your disability you're unable to open the letters. Changing the way they communicate with you would be a reasonable adjustment for HMRC to make to avoid you suffering a disadvantage.

Provide extra aids or services

Sometimes a public authority may need to provide certain aids or equipment when they carry out a public function so you're not disadvantaged. The Equality Act calls these auxiliary aids and services.

Here are examples of auxiliary aids and services:

  • a portable induction loop for people with hearing aids
  • BSL interpreters
  • providing information in alternative formats, such as Braille, large text or audio CDs
  • extra staff assistance - for example, taking extra time to explain something or provide face to face services for people who can’t use the internet or phone.

Example

You want to apply for council tax reduction but your local authority says you must make your application online. You find this difficult as you have a learning disability and would like someone to explain to you how to fill in the form. It would probably be a reasonable adjustment for the local authority to provide you with help to make your application.

Change a physical feature

Sometimes a physical feature of a building may make it more difficult for you to access it.

Here are examples of physical features:

  • steps and stairs
  • passageways and paths
  • entrances and exits
  • internal and external doors
  • toilets
  • signs.

A public authority must remove, change or provide a reasonable way of avoiding the barrier, if it’s reasonable to do so. This could be - for example, installing a ramp or lift, widening doorways or installing disabled toilets.

What can you do if you’re disadvantaged?

You can ask the public authority to make the necessary changes so you're not disadvantaged because of your disability. If the public authority refuses to make reasonable adjustments, it’s discrimination and you can take action under the Equality Act.

Can the public authority sometimes refuse to make the adjustment?

The public authority doesn’t have to make a reasonable adjustment if it’s outside of their powers - for example, because the law says they can't do something.

Example

You want to take part in jury service. You’re deaf and you ask the court to provide a BSL interpreter. The court can’t provide an interpreter as a reasonable adjustment because the law says no-one except members of the jury can be present in the jury room.

In this case it’s not unlawful discrimination if the court refuses to make a reasonable adjustment.

Next steps

Other useful information

Equality Advisory Support Service (EASS)

If you have experienced discrimination, you can get help from the EASS discrimination helpline.

Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC)

You can find useful information about discrimination on the EHRC website at

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