William Eichler 19 May 2022

Ombudsman reminds councils of Equality Act duties

Ombudsman reminds councils of Equality Act duties  image
Image: 719/Shutterstock.com.

It is important that disabled people are placed at the heart of local services, Ombudsman tells local authority leaders.

A new report from the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman shares what the Ombudsman has learnt from its investigations about equal access and local services.

The Equality Act 2010 requires local services to make sure people with disabilities can access their service as easily as people without disabilities. This often will involve councils making ‘reasonable adjustments’ to enable them to do so.

The majority of the Ombudsman’s investigations into Equality Act duties are about councils failing to deal properly with reasonable adjustments.

The report highlights a number of cases where local services have got things wrong, and offers opportunities for others to learn.

Cases in the report include a council failing to make adjustments to the way social workers communicated with a woman with mental health difficulties and not allowing a man with dyslexia the opportunity to challenge a parking fine over the telephone.

‘We know dealing with public services can often be complex, so it is vital local service providers put the needs of people with disabilities at the heart of any decisions about how services are designed and delivered,’ said Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman.

‘It is not enough for them to leave this as an add-on or an afterthought – and enabling people with different needs to access their services shouldn’t be seen as an inconvenience.

‘If people feel they have not had their reasonable adjustments met, they need to tell their local authority, and then come to us if they do not put things right. The stories in this report show that just one complaint to us has the power to make a huge difference. If we find a council has made a mistake, we can recommend changes that can impact everyone in their area and share that learning for other councils and providers to act on.’

He added: ‘I would urge local authorities to read my report and consider whether any of the services they provide are putting people with disabilities at a disadvantage.’

The Ombudsman’s report identifies a number of positive steps councils can make to improve services, including reviewing staff training needs around the Equality Act 2010, incorporating Equality Act duties in contracts when commissioning services from external suppliers, and retaining alternative contact methods for people with alternative needs when moving services online.

Local councillors and members of scrutiny committees are also provided with a list of questions they can ask their authorities to consider to analyse whether services in their wards meet their legal obligations.

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