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Supreme Court rules that bus company must accommodate wheelchair users by taking reasonable action

FirstGroup Plc v Paulley [2017] UKSC 4

The Supreme Court unanimously found that a bus company’s policy requiring a driver to request that a non-wheelchair user vacate a space without taking any further steps was unjustified.

The facts were that Mr Paulley, a wheelchair user attempted to board a bus in February 2012.  The bus had a space marked with a wheelchair sign and a notice which stated, ‘Please give up this space for a wheelchair user.’  A woman with a sleeping child in a pushchair occupied this space and was asked by the driver to fold down the chair and move.  She refused and stated that it did not fold down.

The applicant issued proceedings against FirstGroup (the bus company) for unlawful discrimination on the ground of discrimination and claimed that the company had failed to make reasonable adjustments to its policies contrary to the Equality Act 2010.  The Recorder found in favour or the applicant and awarded him damages.  Recommendations were also made to the effect that the Notice should be altered and that other passengers should be required to move or leave the bus if they failed to comply.

The Court of Appeal disagreed with the Recorder and found that it was not reasonable to hold that FirstGroup should adjust its policy.  The Supreme Court allowed Mr Paulley’s appeal to a limited extent.  It found that FirstGroup’s policy requiring a driver to simply request a non-wheelchair user to vacate the space without taking any further steps was unjustified.  Where a driver who has made such a request and concludes that the refusal is unreasonable, they should consider some further step to pressurise the non-wheelchair user to vacate the space depending on the circumstances.  This could include for example, refusing to drive on.  No damages were awarded to the applicant.

For Supreme Court Press Summary click here.

Disability, Discrimination