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Have you experienced discriminatory behaviour as a consumer?

This month marks the 25th anniversary of the Disability Discrimination Act – have you ever experienced discrimination from a consumer perspective?

The Disability Discrimination Act was a law passed in 1995 making it illegal to discriminate against someone because of their disability.

It was the result of a public campaign and at least 100,000 people in demonstrations, to force the government to end state and business discrimination against people with disabilities.

In 2010 it was replaced by the Equality Act, which extended protections to other characteristics, such as age, race, religion, sexual orientation and gender.

Alhough progress has been made to enshrine equal rights in UK law, discrimination does still happen.

We both want and need to do more to investigate discrimination and racism faced by many of us, be more representative of UK consumers and ensure we provide practical advice on what to do if you’re treated unfairly because of a protected characteristic. 

Our new guide on the Equality Act outlines your rights and how to take action if a company harasses, victimises or discriminates against you.

We also want to hear from you if you’ve experienced discriminatory behaviour when buying goods or services, so we can identify the issues that need looking at more closely. You can comment below or email us at yourstory@which.co.uk

So what does discrimination look like, and where and how might you experience it as a consumer? The following are real-life examples of how it happens and the impact it has.

Booking holidays or services

You might come across discriminatory policies or behaviour when booking holidays or other services.

Examples of this we’ve seen have included a holiday letting company refusing to let an Asian customer book a property, and a B&B owner refusing to let out a room to a gay couple.

If you come across any services that discriminate based on protected characteristics, we want to hear about it.

In-store discrimination and harassment

A member of our Policy team recently told me about a time they witnessed discrimination while shopping in-store: three Black customers were searched on their way in and out of the shop, while other non-Black customers did not receive the same treatment.

Other examples have included a shopping assistant making a derogatory comment to a trans woman using the female changing rooms.

This behaviour could – and we believe should – be challenged under the Equality Act.

Wheelchair users should also be treated equally to other customers when shopping: if you need assistance and are told to wait, or don’t receive the assistance you’ve asked for, you can take action against the company.

And if you’re denied entry to a bar, restaurant or other public space because of your race, sex, disability or any other protected characteristic, this is likely to be unlawful under the Equality Act.

Unfair deals and discounts

Investigations in 2017 by Consumer Reports (the American consumer body) found car insurers charging higher premiums in some postcodes populated by ethnic minorities.

You shouldn’t be offered better or worse deals because you hold a particular protected characteristic.

If you come across marketing deals or policies that unfairly penalise a specific group of people, we want to hear about it.

You can read about the Equality Act 2010 in more detail on our advice page, and comment below or email us at yourstory@which.co.uk if you’d like to share your experiences.

Comments

I suffer absolutely APPALLING discrimination ALL the time and absolutely NO-ONE EVER wants to know about it, let alone take appropriate action. See my latest comment in the conversation about rail travel. I’m absolutely sick and tired of being forcibly EXCLUDED from loads of shops and supermarkets which sell stuff I need all because they insist on playing radio or some absolutely appalling excuse for music all day every opening day and by doing so making the whole place totally INaccessible because of the absolutely EXCRUCIATING NOISE, especially as far too many records and adverts these days are full of constant excruciating finger click routines and skull piercing shrieking whistling for instance, as well as presenters going absolutely hyper-hysterical. And far too many new buses, like those in my local area which are run by a french multi-national have full length skylights making them totally unusable in the summer sun because of the absolutely BRUTAL greenhouse effect the skylights cause, and I’m still overheating and pouring with appalling sweat even now in december, and I’ve been like that since 1983, so you can get some idea of what absolute extreme hell it is in the summer! It’s certainly NOT so “glorious” as those selfish spoilt pampered easy-lifers on the TV keep calling it. And the new trains also totally EXclude anyone like me because there is absolutely NO absolutely ESSENTIAL QUIET segregation on board. Misophonia and extreme heat intolerance and their appallingly brutal effects ARE disabilities and fall well within the definition of disability in the so-called “equality” act, so why the ongoing persistent gross ignorance from those in power and control, both public and private, and the media? There’s absolutely NO excuse! Such sufferers need INclusion and equality NOW! Disability is NOT all “white sticks and wheelchairs” for the umpteen billionth time!

I have two respiratory conditions that exempt me from wearing face masks in public places where they are required, for which I have a doctor’s letter. Although it could be difficult to argue that my two conditions fulfil the definition of a disability under Section 6 of the Equality Act 2010, my exemption has made me realise that people with unquestionable disabilities, exempting them from face masks, are undoubtedly facing discrimination.

A few weeks ago when I got up from my seat on the Tube to get out at a station, another seated passenger put his foot out to try to trip me up. When I turned round and looked at him, he mumbled “wear a face mask“. I shouted back at him “I’m medically exempt and you have no authority to challenge me“. I’m confident enough to respond robustly to such people, but I imagine that many exempt people have conditions that impede such confidence. Fortunately Transport for London recently started sending out free badges to exempt passengers.

When entering a restaurant six weeks ago, a waiter asked me to wear a face mask. I told him that I was medically exempt, so he asked to see proof. Fortunately I have my doctor’s letter on my iPhone (which I had obtained only for international travel), and showed it to him. He didn’t even read it, but was very surprised that I had a doctor’s letter. What does this waiter do if a customer with a relevant disability doesn’t have proof? Does he turn them away?

I totally support businesses and police challenging people who are not wearing masks in public places, not least as there were until recently far too many non-exempt people not wearing masks, which puts exempt people like me at greater risk. Therefore I like to be challenged by businesses and police. But I do not believe that businesses should be asking for evidence, not least as there’s no requirement for exempt people to carry evidence such as a doctor’s letter and imposing such a requirement would impose a burden on GPs who would be snowed under with issuing such letters. If a restaurant has a genuine reasonable suspicion that its customers are not exempt (for example a group of young healthy-looking people all not wearing masks as opposed to just one unmasked individual in a group), then it can call the police. The police are far more skilled at ascertaining whether someone is telling the truth or not.

NFH I think you need to stop and carefully consider whether your 2 health conditions are more life threatening to you if you wear a mask or more life threatening to the many other people in close proximity to you if you don’t wear a mask. You may be COVID positive without symptoms (asymptomatic) and responsible for spreading this potentially killer disease to everyone you come in contact with.

I believe you can get a badge on a lanyard if you are exempt.

I was near a lady not wearing a mask, with her daughter in a shop. I didn’t ask her then but she had parked next to me so, while putting our shopping away, asked why she didn’t wear a mask. She pointed out she had one on her arm but her daughter didn’t like her wearing it. Not convinced.

Much is made of the harm lockdown is doing, and complaints about pubs being closed. Drinking reduces inhibitions and responsibility and it seems likely to therefore result in more risk. The complaint seems to centre around pubs being the centre of the community. Well, surely they can still fulfil this function without serving alcohol while the restrictions pertain.

We must consider the consequences of what we wish for. Relaxing restrictions so that some people can lead a more “normal” life can result in other people losing theirs or being made very ill.

Respiratory problems are one of the hidden disabilities that we have discussed in an earlier Conversation: https://conversation.which.co.uk/health/sunflower-lanyard-scheme-hidden-disability/

I can understand why people are concerned if they see others not wearing masks, so it would be a courtesy to wear a badge etc. if it is not possible to avoid places where masks are needed.

Beryl, I willingly wore a face mask on the Tube in June when it became required to do so, as I am law-abiding and believe in the requirement to do so. But I unexpectedly suffered significant respiratory distress as a result, including for hours afterwards. Therefore I am exempt pursuant to Regulation 4(a) of the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Wearing of Face Coverings on Public Transport) (England) Regulations 2020 and subsequent similar legislation. Beryl, your implication that exempt people should wear a mask and put up with respiratory distress, as long as it’s not “life threatening“, is bordering upon discriminatory.

Concerning face coverings, I generally perceive a degree of prejudice, including jealousy and resentment, by non-exempt people towards exempt people. This must stop, including in this conversation. Perhaps this prejudice would disappear if these people had to experience such respiratory conditions on a daily basis?

Wavechange and Malcom R, you are right. But Transport for London only recently introduced a system of face mask exemption badges, similar to the badges it has been issuing to pregnant women for a long time. I gave the link above, and I have ordered one. Before this, TfL had a downloadable card, which an exempt passenger could show if challenged by a “relevant person“. Note that another passenger is not a “relevant person” under Regulation 5 of the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Wearing of Face Coverings on Public Transport) (England) Regulations 2020.

I sympathise with anyone who suffers from respiratory disease, but if you do, wouldn’t you be at
much greater risk from dying if you were unfortunate enough to contract COVID-19? A mask would at least give you some protection and you are quite at liberty to remove it when leaving the tube.

Badges for general use have been available and you can print your own at home using a government template https://thiis.co.uk/government-releases-new-face-mask-exemption-cards-for-disabled-people-to-communicate-their-status-to-others/. It would save having to explain in most cases.

Good point Malcolm, but in London TfL’s badges are likely to become the universally-recognised badge, even outside public transport such as in shops, just like TfL’s existing badges for pregnant women.

NFH – As an asthmatic I very much agree with what you say about others not understanding respiratory problems. It’s much the same with other hidden disabilities. Asthma UK have a DIY notice to alert others to a problem, on this page: https://www.asthma.org.uk/advice/triggers/coronavirus-covid-19/what-should-people-with-asthma-do-now/should-i-wear-a-face-mask-or-face-covering/

Apart from having my hair cut once and going for a flu jab I’ve managed to avoid going places where a mask is necessary or recommended. I did experiment with a good mask and a cheap one and found that the wearing the decent mask made it more difficult to breathe.

I wonder if the person who voted my comment down was aware that because of my own incurable life threatening condition I am also at very high risk of not surviving COVID-19 if I caught it, would have done so if they knew that. For this reason I wouldn’t risk travelling on any form of public transport or enter a public building where the wearing of masks by anyone, either able bodied or disabled is not mandatory.

I don’t understand why anyone suffering from asthma would do that without wearing some form of face protection for the same reason.

NFH, is it not very risky using the tube, visiting restaurants and traveling abroad when you have two disabling respiratory conditions? It is a difficult choice, I accept, to try to lead a normal life and yet try to protect yourself and others, particularly when we do not know how long we will remain vulnerable.

At some point we will hopefully be protected and can look back on this pandemic with a mixture of relief tinged with sadness. But protecting health in the meantime is a priority, in my view, partly because it is not only our health but that of others that is at stake.

Malcolm, no, my conditions would not increase the severity of infection from COVID-19. So no, I’m not taking a risk, as long as all non-exempt people comply with the requirement to wear face coverings. And believe me, I’m just as irritated by the rest of you when I see people not wearing them who are unlikely to be exempt, e.g. groups of young people where the probability of them all being exempt is close to zero. I’ve noticed another group of culprits of non-wearers is men with large beards, but obviously one can’t make a judgment about individual cases (some of whom are probably exempt), only about a general trend.

I’m glad to hear that, NFH.
The problem many countries seem to suffer from is irresponsible people. Not least those who lead them.

At least you can go to a restaurant. I keep well away from all such places, and cafes, and pubs etc. because of all the absolutely EXCRUCIATING NOISE in such places. I think restaurants should have segregated quiet zones, or quiet times, whichever is most practical. And I can afford to take someone out to somewhere quite posh but what good is it if such places are so totally intolerable?!

Maybe some have private rooms?

Although I can cope with background noise I don’t like it, particularly background music. If you and your friends enjoy cooking it’s very rewarding to produce a meal together and there is no need to put up with noise.

I can tolerate soft background music , but when it is so loud that you can’t enjoy an interesting conversation without shouting at one another it’s a pointless exercise and a complete waste of time.

All for a conversation about background music, but it would be off-topic in this discussion.

Might I suggest moving over to our earlier conversation about whether you are fed up with noisy cafés, pubs, and restaurants?

I agree Malcolm, I am not even allowed to attend the hospital for vital reviews, as my condition is very rare, the clinical research specialists have been contacting me by phone to check on my progress, the prescribed medication and it’s side effects at regular intervals.

Its really just a matter of acceptance, plain common sense and consideration for your fellow human beings.

Thankfully I’ve never suffered from discrimination but I try to be conscious of it as much as possible. For a long time I’ve been aware that many places are not physically accessible for people with mobility issues. My mum has recently had two full knee replacements and prior to that struggled to walk long distances or upstairs, and continues with these issues while still recovering. I think a lot of places are inaccessible to people who struggle with these problems. I appreciate that a lot of architecture in the UK is quite dated so it could be a tough job to put in lifts/ramps but I don’t think enough time is spent looking for solutions. Another example of this is public transport. A lot of the London Underground is a nightmare to navigate for anyone in a wheelchair or on crutches. Personally, I think there is little excuse for having stations with no step-free access. The knock-on effect of this is that people have to pay extortionate fees to either drive to their location (which in London would probably include a congestion fee, and anywhere else as well as London would at least include high parking fees) or take a taxi which is also expensive. For environmental reasons, I’d love to see people using public transport more but I sympathise with anyone who struggles to.

Your point about step-free access to trains is a good one, Alex, and it applies to trains throughout the country, and not simply to the Underground in London. The Swiss have managed this on their network, so what’s stopping the UK?

Alex, you make an excellent point about the Tube. Try going to an airport with baggage on the Tube, and it’s not fun, having to carry a suitcase up and down stairs, particularly if one has maximised one’s 32kg baggage allowance. This occasional inconvenience faced by able-bodied passengers makes one understand the everyday difficulties faced by disabled passengers.

The much newer Jubilee Line and Docklands Light Railway are how it should be with lifts and other step-free access.

You’re right it’s not just London. I use the example because a) it’s the transport I use most and b) it’s often used as an example as being “advanced”. I think the whole of the UK’s public transport needs to be made accessible. I think there’s a lot that needs to be done to the public transport system in the UK to encourage people to use it more (I won’t list them all because it’s off-topic and probably needs its own Convo) but to me making it physically accessible for people should be top of the list.

You’re right NFH, the newer lines are better for this. I use the Piccadilly and Central line mostly and you can see the real issue there. These lines are being updated so I am hopeful this will include addressing step-free access but I guess only time will tell – but hopefully, there won’t be too much of a wait.

Adapting the stations would cost billions, but trains that have their passenger access between the bogeys so it’s level with the station should be the next priority.

We have new, Swiss-built, trains on the Norwich to London service and on country routes which have built-in ramps that deploy when the sliding doors open and provide easier access for all, not just those with disabilities.

The London Underground is mostly a very old system but most stations now have escalators or lifts between the ticket hall and the platforms, although the entrance from the street is often steps and there are many places where there are still stairs between the lift landings or escalator levels and the platforms. Escalators are not suitable for everyone and will not accommodate wheelchairs or mobility scooters. Changing platforms at some stations, especially on the oldest parts of the network often involves lots of stairs, and even in the more modern sections, there are sometimes very long distances from one line to another at interchanges.

There are 270 Underground stations and and 112 Overground stations operated by Transport for London. There are 71 step-free stations on the Underground [26%] and 57 on the Overground routes [63%]. All stations on the Docklands Light Railway are step-free. Apparently, an extra £200 million was allocated last year for improving access. This money will be used to bring the number of step-free Tube stations up to 100.

The situation is far worse on the National Rail system where most of the stations are even older and rarely have step free-access to the platforms, although conditions are better at the termini and major stations operated by Network Rail. Many stations are also built on a curve which makes boarding difficult if there is a wide gap between the platform and the train and there is frequently a large height difference as well. Remedying these problems will be an expensive and lengthy exercise so in the meantime the present unsatisfactory and unreliable assistance arrangements will have to prevail. At some stations in Norfolk passengers have to go on to the next station and get a train back to their destination in order to alight at an accessible platform; fortunately there is a programme to provide lifts or other satisfactory means of access but this will all take time.

Disabled people living in Greater London and in some other conurbations can get free travel passes for use on trains, buses and trams and some assistance with taxi fares; such benefits are rarely available in provincial areas.

Our country station had lifts installed several years ago to enable those who are disabled, infirm or with heavy luggage to cross between platforms. It all costs money, of course, so won’t happen overnight on a network and stations that were laid down in Victorian times. Meantime, let’s hope that, where stations are staffed, assistance can be booked in advance for those who need it.

I have been impressed by the efforts that have been put in to make buses more accessible to those with disabilities. I knew that our local bus fleet has undergone major changes over the past few years and the company claims that all its buses are low-floor and wheelchair accessible.

As John has pointed out, some railway stations are built on a curve, making it difficult and much more expensive to implement solutions than for buses.

Ian – Without getting too technical about it, aligning the train doorways with the platforms depends on the curvature of the track. On straight track there is no problem but where the station is sited on a curve each side of the train has its own characteristics. On a convex platform face, the doorways need to be, as you say, between the bogies and in the middle of the carriage, but the opposite platform will be concave and the doorways need to be at the ends of the carriages over the bogies. I don’t think any pre-WW2 national railway system has managed to overcome this problem entirely.

Since most UK railway routes have a mixture of island platforms between the tracks and side platforms on either side of the tracks the doorways have to be spaced suitably for both arrangements. While long-distance trains usually had the doors at the ends of the carriages [which meant passengers could easily use the door with the least gap to the platform], commuter and metro train coaches usually have three or four sets of doors on each side to facilitate faster boarding and alighting; people who know their stations can position themselves for the best advantage but passengers who are unfamiliar with the situation can find it difficult to get on and off a crowded train if they are not in just the right spot.

And far too many of those buses now also have appalling full length SKYLIGHTS without adequate solar control which cause absolutely BRUTAL greenhouse effects in the summer sun making them TOTALLY UNUSABLE for anyone severely disabled like ME with extreme HEAT intolerance making them absolutely POUR with totally uncontrollable extreme SWEAT which I know is absolute extreme hell. And for that reason those new buses DO NOT conform to the so-called “equality” act, no matter what claims are made by either the operators OR the government. In my experience the more supposed “anti-discrimination” laws are put into force and the more supposedly “disability compliant” transport becomes, the worse things get, it’s all going the wrong way. Just when ARE those in power and control going to see past white sticks and wheelchairs for crying out LOUD?!

If you have maximised your baggage allowance of 32kg, your flight may be cheap but, with easyjet for example, it seems like you will have to pay between £45 and £78 each way for it to be carried. I wouldn’t want to lug that very far, nor fork out that money. Travel light.

Malcolm, when I fly business or first class on British Airways using Avios, then my baggage allowance is 2 x 32kg per passenger. If there’s step-free access, then a 32kg suitcase isn’t a problem. But to bring this back on topic, why should disabled people have to suffer this inconvenience every day, which I suffer only when I take a flight?

I am in favour of making transport more accessible, but you are not going to change the London Underground overnight so I was suggesting the alternative way, in the meantime, to avoid lugging over 1 cwt of luggage up and down lots of steps.

If you have heavy luggage, or if a few people are travelling, it may make sense to take a taxi rather than struggling on the tube. That is the only economic option for many who live out of town.

With the least expensive taxi services such as Uber costing £50 to £70 from Canary Wharf to Heathrow, and the Tube costing £3.10, I’m not sure why you describe a taxi an “economic option“. Taxis in London often cost more than short-haul flights! This will change whenever Crossrail finally opens, and a journey from Canary Wharf to Heathrow will take only 39 minutes.

I looked at Euston to LHR and a saloon car was around £35, it said. This is probably relatively little compared to the cost of most long haul flights or holidays where you would be most likely to be encumbered with heavy luggage, but I offered it as a convenient option when you may have to deal with a lot of stairs on the underground. A solution available now for those who wish.

My “economic” comment was for those who live “out of town” where they have, maybe, a choice of paying a lot to park their car at the airport or take a taxi.

When I used to work in Oxfordshire, it was normal practice for business travel to and from Heathrow or Gatwick to be by taxi or by official car. I was also entitled to Business Class flights, so no one was too bothered about the taxi fares.

Yes, Derek, I do the same when travelling on business because someone else is paying for it. But when paying one’s own money and there’s a choice between £3.10 and £50-£70, the choice is obvious.

Anyone arriving at London Euston railway station trying to get to Heathrow is at a disadvantage because it is one of the worst-sited railway stations in the capital for onward connexions. It won’t even be an easy trip to an interchange with Crossrail and it is not particularly convenient for the Circle Line at Euston Square [although there has been talk of a travelator link one day].

Apart from using the Underground, there is only one continuous link [Thameslink] north-south across London between terminal stations [St Pancras and London Bridge] and a number of changes are usually required so a taxi is often the best way; at least the driver can usually divert around any hold-ups and you can stay with your luggage throughout. Transfers by Underground are possible on the Circle Line connecting Kings Cross/St Pancras, Liverpool Street, Cannon Street, Blackfriars, Charing Cross, Victoria, and Paddington in both directions but all of those stations have steps to enter and exit and the journeys are fairly slow.

>>> Investigations in 2017 by Consumer Reports (the American consumer body) found car insurers charging higher premiums in some postcodes populated by ethnic minorities.

You shouldn’t be offered better or worse deals because you hold a particular protected characteristic. <<<

I am not sure why Which? would use that example here without further qualification. It is probably not relevant – at least not in the UK.

Whether discrimination has occured depends on a legitimate insurance risk being present. If it can be shown that a cohort (a posh term meaning a group of policyholders sharing a similar characteristic) present a higher risk using reliable data, then it is potentially allowed under the Equality Act 2010.

For instance, we all know that car insurance policies vary with the age of the driver. This potential discrimination is specifically covered in S13(2):

"If the protected characteristic is age, A [the insurance company] does not discriminate against B [the driver] if A can show A's treatment of B to be a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim."

As long as insurers did not set out to change drivers more BECAUSE of their age, but because accident statistics show that younger drivers are more likely to be involved in an accident, they are exempt.

There is also a legitimate basis for charging higher premiums based on accident rates in different postcodes. Drivers in congested city centres are more at risk of accident or vehicle damage than drivers in most rural areas. If the higher premiums are as a result of accident statistics, and it just happens to be an area mostly inhabited by ethnic minorities (as some inner city areas are), then that is not discrimination on the basis of ethnicity, or religion, or any other protected characteristic where there is a geographical correlation to postcode.

To put it another way, we all know that properties in high flood risk areas pay higher premiums, or are even uninsurable. I am confident that positive statistical correlations could be found between some of these areas and characteristics covered by the Equality Act. It would be a real stretch of the imagination to call these postcodes out as further examples of discrimination.

I can’t help noticing how there is now far more of an absolute obsession with building far too many new public buildings, especially public transport stations, like a giant greenhouse with dirty great glass or clear plastic roofing. I hope they’re fully heat reflective and solar controlled or else far too many folk severely disabled like ME with absolutely APPALLING severe HEAT intolerance and extreme uncontrollable profuse sweating won’t be able to enter such places in the summer sun which is absolutely outrageous discrimination and outright EXCLUSION! And I know for absolute fact that some of the older ones like Blackpool north have a glass roof without ANY adequate solar control and that one IS totally INaccessible in the summer sun for anyone like me. Last time I went there in june 2018 it was heated up like an absolute FURNACE causing me absolutely appalling uncontrollable profuse sweating which is absolute excruciating hell, certainly NOT such a FAT-gloating joke as far too many spoilt pampered born-free easy-lifers still so arrogantly think which absolutely INFURIATES me, and it’s them that keep so selfishly excessively over glorifying the brutal frying far too HOT summer sun as if it was some kind of idol. Proper fully effective solar control absolutely MUST be made absolutely compulsory in ALL new public buildings and vehicles which have such roofing fitted. And I also know that some such roofs and skylights etc. already have some form of attempt at solar control which is hopelessly ineffective and that needs dealing with urgently! People like me ARE disabled and DO meet the criteria which defines disability in the so-called “equally” act which in my experience is just not worth the paper it’s printed on as it’s just NOT being anywhere near properly enforced which is an utter DISGRACE!