You need to make sure that you address the complainants concerns. Useful case law on this point was provided by District Judge Lettall in the case of Fogerty v Keaz [Stockport County Court, 13th July 2015]:
“The court can, where appropriate, give credit to those that recognise ultimately the fact that they have unlawfully discriminated and take active steps to remedy the situation. In circumstances where the court should take that into account when assessing damages, in circumstances where the defendants take completely the opposite view, the court should also take that into account.”*
The first thing you should do is to fix the problem. This may mean that you need to get a hearing loop, a ramp, a doorbell or to move things around a little so there is room for people to move around in your store. Whatever it is, fixing the access problem should be your first priority. Lots of people are willing to tell you what you need to do, but if you need to get advice on this you can often approach your local council who may have an access officer in the planning department that could help you. You can also employ an access auditor who can advise you on a range of accessibility issues and options.
Once you have fixed the problem you should apologise to the person or people you excluded. You can find advice on how to give a meaningful apology here. You should make sure that you tell them that you have made the changes to make your business accessible to them.
You should also offer the person you excluded something to compensate them for the upset and inconvenience that was caused to them. There have been a number of instances where, after a case has been brought, a business has made adjustments (like buying a ramp or a hearing loop) but not sought to make amends. This has been shown to be insufficient. For example District Judge Lettall in the case of Fogerty v Farjampour (Trading as Pizza Lavita) [Stockport County Court, 6th July 2015] said:
“I do take account of the fact that, subsequently, it would appear that the defendant has now provided a ramp for wheelchair users but, beyond that, it seems he has not sought to try to make amends at all. In those circumstances, I am satisfied that the appropriate award of damages is £2,500 “*
If you are responding to an informal complaint you might want to consider whether you offer free goods or services. This might be a free meal if you are a restaurant, some goods if you are a shop or even a donation to a charity of their choice. Such an offer, particularly in respect of informal access complaints, often go a long way to making up for the exclusion and may save you from an expensive legal bill. See upcoming post for the information on compensation.
*We understand that the courts are not bound by previous cases however it does provide some guidance as to how the courts might approach answering the kind of questions that will be asked of it in access cases.