Sainsbury’s customer, Rachael Stevens, and her guide dog Pippa, were mistakenly told they were not allowed into a store.
But what are people’s rights under the Equality Act 2010? Our Consumer Fightback columnist explains where people stand on everything from guide dogs, to disabled access and what to do if you think something is wrong.
A Sainsbury’s store in Herne Hill refused entry to a customer with her guide dog, in a breach of the Equality Act 2010.
Sainsbury’s customer, Rachael Stevens, and her guide dog Pippa, were not allowed into the store, despite clear markings on the animal’s livery to indicate its assistance dog status.
Rachael, who is pictured with her guide dog and her son, was turned away from Sainsbury’s
Rachael, her husband and their two children, Joseph, 7, and Leo, 4, had gone for a long walk and went to Dough Artisan Bakery on Herne Hill in London for a coffee and some cake on Saturday afternoon.
In the meantime, Rachael and her guide dog nipped over the road to get some milk from the Sainsbury’s store.
She had been able to go in and pay for the milk at the self-service till, but as she was leaving she was told by someone stacking shelves, ‘You can’t bring that dog in the shop’.
She replied: ‘Yes I can, she’s a guide dog’ and walked out back to the cafe.
Rachael’s husband tweeted about the incident and Sainsbury’s requested they send a direct message. It’s response was an apology and a request for further information, including a description of the colleague.
Rachael says ‘What was most disappointing was when I said to the member of staff that she’s a guide dog, he seemed baffled, like he’d never heard of one before.
‘There seems to be an issue with training at Sainsbury’s. I know people make mistakes, but, every member of staff knows they can’t sell alcohol to children, so, why don’t they all know you can’t ban guide dogs?
‘Pippa acts as my eyes. You wouldn’t tell other shoppers they can only come in if they wear a blindfold.
‘It’s exhausting having to worry every time I step into a shop, bar or cab that I might get refused access, and this experience is just another example where it seems my concerns are justified.’
Rachael has retinitis pigmentosa, which she was diagnosed at age 14. It is a degenerative condition which causes her vision to close in, meaning she has about 5 per cent visibility, a small circle in the centre of her visual field.
She has no peripheral vision and seeing at night time is also harder.
She got Pippa in May 2019 and says it has genuinely changed her life. She is now able to go to work in the rush hour on her own and has far more freedom as a result.
Sainsbury’s apologised for the incident and asked Rachael for more details of the incident
Supermarkets repeatedly caught out
It is not the first time this has happened. Just seven months ago a Sainsbury’s store in Holborn, central London, refused entry to the double British and European ski champion John Dickinson-Lilley who was visiting with his guide dog.
After the incident was reported on the 8 June 2019 Sainsbury’s provided a statement to say: ‘We have apologised to John for his experience and reassured him assistance dogs are welcome in all our stores and petrol stations.’
However, it would appear that Sainsbury’s is still not doing enough to ensure its staff are abiding by the law.
The Equality Act 2010 legally protects all people from discrimination. A company must make adaptions for people with disabilities, where possible. Quite simply, in this case it means that an assistance dog must be allowed into the store.
Ironically, in 2017 Sainsbury’s renewed its sponsorship of the GB Paralympian team up to the Tokyo games in 2020.
Company Secretary and Corporate Services Director Tim Fallowfield was awarded an OBE for his services towards disability awareness. Perhaps he should be concentrating on the very basics of legality in the stores, as well as new initiatives?
When, in October 2014, a blind student and her guide dog were refused entry to a Tesco store in Swiss Cottage, Tesco apologised and made a donation of £5,000 towards training of a guide dog.
A spokesperson for Tesco told me at the time that staff who haven’t grown up in the UK don’t have knowledge of assistance dogs. So it shows the clear need to ensure that all staff are suitably trained to ensure an understanding of what many of us take for granted.
Sainsbury’s has made no such gesture, not even after this second episode.
A Sainsbury’s spokesperson said: ‘Assistance dogs are welcome in all of our stores and petrol stations and we have apologised to Rachael for her experience. We will remind all stores of our policy and hope to welcome Rachael and her assistance dog back into store soon.’
I asked directly if Sainsbury’s would be making a donation and no response was received, as the time of publication, although the supermarket later said: ‘We are in regular contact with Guide Dogs and donate to them through our local charity of the year initiatives as well as the proceeds from tickets sold for our Santa Paws pop-up in December.’
The Equality Act 2010 legally protects all people from discrimination, including guide dogs
Guide dog prejudice not uncommon
Many guide dog users have stories of access refusals. Simon says ‘We’ve had one refusal from a black cab, and certainly a few concerned looks from Uber drivers (I make sure to ‘reveal’ her only once everyone else is in the car to avoid a drive away).’
A Guide Dogs spokesperson said: ‘Guide Dogs believes everyone who experiences sight loss deserves to able to live their lives the way they want and feel confident, independent and supported in the world. It is completely unacceptable for a retailer to illegally refuse entry to a customer with a guide dog.
‘Yet, sadly, this individual’s experience is not a one off and discrimination is still so prevalent today’s society. Three-quarters of guide dog owners are illegally turned away by businesses and services which is leaving people with sight loss left out of life.’
Guide Dog user, Patrick, talks about his experiences in this video and says that the most common places where he is asked to leave because of his dog are supermarkets and high street stores.
Key rights under the Equality Act 2010, service provision and disability
The Equality Act, implemented on 1 October 2010, brought together 116 pieces of legislation into one Act.
1) It is illegal to discriminate against anyone on the grounds of; age, disability, mental health, gender reassignment, marriage or civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion/belief, sex and sexual orientation. On 3 January 2020 a court ruling extended this protection to ethical vegans.
2) The Equality Act is civil law not criminal. Therefore, police can’t intervene when it happens and you would need to seek redress in the courts after the event. (It is only criminally illegal to refuse access to a taxi/cab because it’s a breach of their licence).
3) When using a service provider such as a retailer, every person is entitled to services that are provided free from discrimination, to have rights to accessibility and to be protected from harassment.
4) In some circumstances the law allows businesses to treat disabled people more favourably than non-disabled people. For example, this may be when a theatre gives a disabled person a free ticket to allow someone to assist them to attend the venue.
5) A business must consider implications for any disabled person and make reasonable adjustments (such as a ramp for wheelchair users) before they have a customer who may need one.
6) A business cannot stop providing a disabled person with services if they continue to provide them for other people in similar circumstances.
7) A business cannot charge more for a deposit or keep a customer waiting longer for a service than any other customer because of their disability (or any other protected characteristic).
8) Indirect discrimination is a breach of the Equality Act. For example, a restaurant may have a standard of expected behaviour. However, if someone with a disability is unable to meet this standard due to their disability the business must be able to object with justification.
So, if the standard has a worse impact on people with a particular protected characteristic than on people who do not have that characteristic, then the business needs to either make reasonable adjustments or provide objective justification for refusing to serve the person.
9) Everyone is covered by the Equality Act whether the service is provided for free or paid for.
10) It may sometimes be legal for an insurance provider to refuse a policy on the basis of age or disability, but this will depend on the terms of what is considered ‘reasonable’.
You can find out more about the Equality Act 2010 on the Equality and Human Rights Commission website.
What to do it your guide dog is turned away
The Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) Legal Rights Officer, Anita Marshall says: ‘Under the 2010 Equality Act it is illegal for an organisation to refuse entry to a person because they are a guide dog user.
‘RNIB’s legal rights team works tirelessly to challenge this kind of discrimination and ensure blind and partially sighted people are aware of their rights.
‘Last year, we worked with Guide Dogs to launch the Challenging Discrimination Toolkit, which helps guide dog owners recognise unfair practice and challenge this behaviour should they encounter it.
‘This toolkit is just one strand of support that RNIB has created to help end discrimination and create a world without barriers for blind and partially sighted people.’
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Helen Dewdney, The Complaining Cow, writes This is Money’s Consumer Fight Back column.
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