The Equality Act has been in place for several years now, yet retailers are still unsure about their responsibilities when occupying leased premises.
There is also confusion about how to comply with the equality law and implement good practice. Ben Tarrant, a real estate partner from national law firm TLT outlines some of the key points to be aware of.
The retailer’s responsibility
Retailers must not discriminate against any customers needing their service, for example providing access to the shop. The retailer is responsible for making any adjustments to the property, such as installing a wheelchair ramp, to make sure both disabled and able-bodied persons can get into the shop. Retailers also need to anticipate in advance what a disabled person may need so as to remove the disadvantage.
Changes to the premises
Where a physical feature of the property, for example, stairs in a two-storey shop, puts a disabled person at a substantial disadvantage in comparison with persons who are not disabled, the retailer must take action. This would be to either avoid the disadvantage in the first place, for example, installing a lift, or adopt a reasonable alternative method of providing the service.
- The retailer does not necessarily have to install a lift, if they could adopt a reasonable alternative, for example, having a changing room upstairs in a clothes shop might be sufficient. However, this solution may not be acceptable if further stock was also located downstairs, and the disabled person was unable to access that stock. In such circumstances, the retailer would need to consider other reasonable alternative methods to accommodate disabled customers.
- The rules are flexible in relation to what is reasonable for a retailer to implement. This will depend on various factors including the size, nature and resources of the business as well as the nature of the goods and facilities. If a retailer can provide an alternative method of providing access to both floors of the shop, for example two entrances, then a lift may not have to be installed.
Getting landlord approval
A tenant is likely to need landlord’s consent to carry out any alterations to the premises. It is often the case that a lease prevents alterations, however if the changes that the tenant is proposing are to comply with the Equality Act, the following will be implied into the lease:
- The tenant can make the alteration with the landlord’s written consent;
- The tenant must make a written application for consent;
- The landlord must not unreasonably withhold consent, but can grant consent subject to reasonable conditions.
Retailers should also remember that in all cases where alterations are envisaged, planning consent may be required.
One of the main aims of the Equality Act 2010 was to consolidate discrimination legislation, making it easier for businesses to comply with the regulations as everything is contained in one piece of legislation. Retailers in leased premises are not exempt and need to make sure they follow the rules or risk the brand’s reputation.