By Carl Davis
The Equality Act 2010 requires that employers and service providers like social landlords make ‘reasonable adjustments’ that will allow disabled people to access the same opportunities and services as non-disabled people. It also requires employers and providers to consider disability in everything they do and to actively anticipate the need for reasonable adjustments in the workplace and service environment. This includes interactions in peoples’ homes.
So, to ape the sector’s current marketing sloganising …
“considering disability should be at the heart of everything social landlords do“.
But with many housing associations this is not the case. The following is a real-life example.
A Reasonable Adjustment
Paul (not his real name) is a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic and tenant of leading housing association L&Q . In 2018 Paul made a formal reasonable adjustment request asking that the landlord give reasonable notice of appointments, rather than just turn up unannounced at his door.
The request was prompted when L&Q’s gas safety contractor scrapped the practice of sending out appointment times for annual gas checks and began to rely on cold calling.
Unscheduled visits are deeply unsettling to Paul, and the request for advance notification seemed entirely … reasonable. To avoid stress and misunderstandings, notice allows Paul to prepare himself and his flat for social interactions, and helps him successfully navigate potentially stressful situations. Knowing the time and date of a visit therefore makes a profound difference.
By extension, advance notice arguably benefits all involved, and is usually considered a common courtesy when visiting someone’s home. This is the case regardless of whether the person has a disability or not. It also surely makes the contractors’ jobs easier, increasing the likelihood that tenants will be at home and receptive rather than absent or obstructive.
As a reasonable adjustment, it would be hard to imagine anything less burdensome than providing notice of appointments. But when L&Q shifted to cold calling, they ignored the prior agreement to send notification of visits.
In fact, they didn’t bother to acknowledge receipt of Paul’s reasonable adjustment request, but instead threatened to evict him if he did not give the contractors access. L&Q then went further, instructing the contractor SureserveGroup Ltd, to ignore Paul’s requests for appointment times.
Contrary to their legal obligations, L&Q did not just dismiss Paul’s reasonable adjustment, but actively resisted its implementation, placing unnecessary barriers in everyone’s way.
Approach to the Regulator
Paul took his complaint to the Regulator of Social Housing who acknowledged that he had not denied access to contractors, but had simply requested an appointment time, and that the request was made as a reasonable adjustment for reasons of disability. All the same, the Regulator decided L&Q’s conduct didn’t breach standards.
Although this finding was disappointing, it was no surprise. At the time, the Regulator hadn’t upheld any complaint relating to its Tenant Empowerment and Involvement Standard – the element of its remit specifically dealing with disability equality issues.
A Failure to Comply
Back to L&Q, where it took over 200 days for the landlord to formally acknowledge receipt of Paul’s reasonable adjustment request and to formally agree to provide reasonable notice of appointment times. Although this was a small victory, it turned out to be a hollow one. L&Q has failed to comply with the agreed reasonable adjustment over annual gas checks and almost all other maintenance and repair issues.
Then L&Q’s behaviour took a distinctly vindictive turn. In 2019 the landlord decided that its regional gas manager and multiple contractors all needed to be in attendance at Paul’s annual gas check – as if he was the problem – causing maximum stress to Paul.
The situation meant that Paul’s mental health team was forced to intervene and initiate safeguarding proceedings against L&Q.
In 2020 SureserveGroup Ltd remembered to send out the notice of annual gas check appointment in compliance with the reasonable adjustment but then a few days beforehand, cold called by phone to confirm the appointment. This was something they were prohibited from doing. When the call went unanswered, they cancelled the appointment and sent Paul a letter claiming he had denied them entry and threatening legal action to gain access.
Paul once again complained and SureserveGroup PLC initially apologised for failing to comply with the reasonable adjustment.
Then in August 2021 they appeared at Paul’s home unannounced to undertake the gas check. Seeking to avoid any further stress Paul let the SureserveGroup Plc gas engineer in, but questioned why he hadn’t received notice of the appointment in line with the reasonable adjustment. The gas engineer informed Paul that he didn’t like his attitude and would arrange for someone else to undertake the gas check.
When Paul raised this with SureserveGroup Plc they apologised again for the gas engineer’s behaviour, stated that there was no record of a reasonable adjustment being required on their systems, and claimed it was L&Q’s responsibility to notify Paul of the annual gas check appointment time.
For its part L&Q claimed in a written response that SureserveGroup had sent out multiple appointment letters to Paul but that these must have been ‘lost in the post’. To evidence this they provided a letter from SureserveGroup claiming it had been denied access. This contradicted everything SureserveGroup Plc had claimed.
An Approach to Vicky Foxcroft MP
In 2019 Paul complained to his MP, Vicky Foxcroft, Shadow Minister for Disabilities. In response to Vicky, L&Q claimed that it had flagged up the reasonable adjustment on its IT systems so that the cold calling would no longer occur.
This was never followed up in practice. L&Q and its contractors still have no mechanisms in place to ensure compliance with reasonable adjustment requests. It simply isn’t a priority for them.
L&Q Not Living the Values
Chief Executive Fiona Fletcher Smith claims that L&Q is committed to’ living its values’ and putting tenants at the heart of everything it does. But SHAC has yet to see any evidence of this. Complaints to SHAC from L&Q’s tenants and residents confirm that Paul’s experiences, and the distress caused to him are still being replicated across the L&Q estate.
What makes the failures experienced by Paul even more of a concern is that L&Q owns L&Q Living. This is “a dedicated care and support service” which “houses more than 6,500 people across London and the South East” and which “directly supports people with mental health illnesses, people with learning disabilities, older and young people.” This service is contracted by local councils to provide care and support to their residents.
It may be that L&Q Living is adequately supporting its residents. But clearly, there is a complete disconnect between the ethos of the subsidiary concerned with care and support, and the ethos of the rest of the organisation, even though they are both governed by the same board, and indeed, operate from the same address.
L&Q isn’t the only social landlord dragging its feet on disability equality and the provision of reasonable adjustments. This is a problem for the sector to acknowledge and address, not just one high profile rogue provider with a poor track record on equalities.
Paul is continuing to challenge his landlord’s failure to comply with the simplest of reasonable adjustment requests.
The SHAC Disability Charter Scheme
SHAC’s Disability Charter Scheme has been developed in collaboration with disabled tenants and residents, and their carers.
The Scheme aims to encourage and help housing associations achieve greater awareness and compliance with the disabilities aspect of the Equality Act 2010.
SHAC is encouraging all tenants and residents to send the Charter Scheme document to their landlords and ask them to implement it.
Even if your landlord is not sympathetic initially or corporately, it will help build pressure and may receive support from the staff who see it.
23 September 2021