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RBS Loses Appeal Over Wheelchair Access Ruling

November 21, 2009

The Royal Bank of Scotland lost its appeal over a ruling that it failed to cater for the wheelchair access needs of a disabled teenager who was awarded £6,500 damages.

David Allen, 18, who has muscular dystrophy, took legal action after the bank failed to install wheelchair access at the Church Street branch in Sheffield, where he is studying creative writing at the city’s Hallam University.

Judges dismissed the bank’s appeal today and ordered it to carry out the necessary access work, which has been estimated as costing £200,000.

They also ordered the bank to pay Allen’s legal costs and refused permission to take the case to the supreme court.

Lord Justice Wall said in today’s ruling that Allen could not access the counter facilities at the bank and a duty “plainly thereby arose” under the Disability Discrimination Act. He said the bank could have taken steps to provide access for those suffering from disabilities.

“The bank did not take those steps, giving as its reason not the disproportionate cost of carrying out the work, but simply the fact that it would lose the use of an interview room.”

The Sheffield branch concerned is a 19th century listed building where access to all entrances is by flights of stone steps.

Judge John Dowse ruled at Sheffield county court in January that the bank had breached the Disability Act.

Richard Lissack QC, for RBS, argued at the court of appeal that the judge had got it wrong in relation to the part of the act concerning the duty of providers of services to make reasonable adjustments to help the disabled.

He told Lord Justice Dyson, Lord Justice Wall and Lord Justice Hughes that the bank was “acutely conscious” of the fact that he was not well treated and was “extremely sorry”.

“That apology was made at trial and the wrong done to him was recognised by the bank in correspondence long before that.”

He told the judges the case provided the first occasion in which an appeal court – and perhaps any court – had considered the application of the act to the provision of services which did not require attendance and, in particular, reasonable adjustment in respect of such services.

“It raises important issues of far wider application than just to this case, this bank, or the banking sector as a whole.”

The bank, which pledged not to deprive Allen of his damages if it won the appeal, said it had complied with the Disability Rights Commission’s code of practice and arranged access to three other branches, as well as offering Allen the use of telephone or internet banking services.

Robin Allen QC, for the teenager, said the case was about the fact that the student wanted to have banking facilities as close as possible, like any ordinary person who could walk in and do all the little transactions that arose from time to time.

He told the judges that Allen did not open an internet account, as he did not want that kind of a service.

Instead, he wanted the convenience of counter services and a relationship which enabled him to speak about banking issues.

Sheffield Law Centre, the solicitors representing Allen, said: “This was an important ruling – the first time a court had ever granted an injunction requiring building work as a ‘reasonable adjustment’ under the Disability Discrimination Act.”

The case was supported by the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

Good on David Allen! He has my best wishes for his time at university and in life.

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