If you have trouble accessing this email, please use the web version [ [link removed] ]
31 March 2021
March news from the Equality and Human Rights Commission
Whistleblower evidence leads to legally binding agreement with Pontins to tackle racial discrimination
In February 2020 we received information from a whistleblower who was employed by holiday firm Pontins that the company operated a discriminatory booking policy which excluded Gypsies and Travellers.
The whistleblower reported that this included:
Monitoring calls within its contact centre and refusing or cancelling any bookings that were made by people with an Irish accent or surname.
Publishing a list of Irish surnames on its intranet page, titled ‘undesirable guests’, which required staff to block any potential customers with those names from booking.
Using a policy which banned holiday-makers from arriving in commercial vehicles to exclude Gypsies and Travellers from its holiday parks.By declining to provide its services to a certain race or ethnic group (in this case Gypsy/Roma/Travellers), Pontins was directly discriminating on the basis of race, in a flagrant breach of the Equality Act.
We contacted Britannia Jinky Jersey Ltd, owner of Pontins, to notify them that we had evidence to suggest they were breaking equality law and were preparing to launch a full investigation of their practices, using our powers under Section 20 of the Equality Act 2006. They offered instead to work with us to review and amend their practices and have now signed a legally-binding agreement with us.
This agreement requires Pontins to:
Conduct an investigation into the ‘Undesirable guest’ list to ensure appropriate action is taken within the organisation and that lessons are learned.
Commission a review of its current intelligence system, booking policies and commercial vehicle policy to ensure they are not operating in a discriminatory way, and consider any recommendations.
Provide enhanced training on equality law for staff in its Human Resources team and members of Senior Management.
Provide training on equality and diversity for all customer facing staff on an annual basis.
Appoint Equality, Diversity and Inclusion champions across the organisation.The agreement will be monitored by us to make sure the agreed actions are completed. If we suspect Pontins is breaching the agreement we can launch a full investigation against the company.
Find out more [link removed]
Whistleblowing about breaches of equality or human rights law
We found out about the racial discrimination at Pontins because a whistleblower approached us with evidence that the company was breaking equality law. But what is whistleblowing and what protections are there for whistleblowers?
You’re a whistleblower if you’re a worker and you report certain types of wrongdoing, usually something you’ve seen at work. The wrongdoing you disclose must be in the public interest. This means it must affect others, for example the general public: personal grievances and complaints are not usually covered by whistleblowing law.
As a whistleblower you are protected by law. You should not be treated unfairly or lose your job because you ‘blow the whistle’.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission is a prescribed body for whistleblowing about breaches of equality or human rights law. This means that if your concern is about a breach of equality or human rights law, you can tell us. You can find out more about whistleblowing on our website.
Find out more [link removed]
Ensuring people get vital information in a format they can access
Following judicial review proceedings started by a blind woman and supported by an intervention from us, the Department of Health and Social Care has promised to improve the ways in which it provides information to people who have been asked to shield to protect themselves from coronavirus.
Sarah Leadbetter is registered blind and categorised as clinically extremely vulnerable.
Although Sarah was included in a list of people who should shield to protect themselves from coronavirus, she was only informed of this by a paper letter and was not sent any correspondence in a format that she can access, for instance by email or in a document that is compatible with a voice-reader.
Sarah engaged law firm Leigh Day to bring a judicial review against the government for failing to provide her with information in a format which she could access.
We then applied to intervene in the proceedings to support Sarah's claim that the Department of Health and Social Care was in breach of its duties under the Equality Act 2010, did not comply with the Accessible Information Standard and discriminated against Sarah under Articles 8 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Ahead of a planned hearing on the case, the Department of Health and Social Care has now agreed:
To reconsider its practice of sending out hardcopy letters to people on the Shielded Patients List without first finding out how they would like to receive information.
To consider how information on shielding can be given in an accessible format to disabled people and/or people with communication needs who are on the Shielded Patients List.
To investigate technical issues in identifying communication needs of people on the Shielded Patients List, and to work out how to address shortcomings in the information held in the Personal Demographics Service about communication needs.The work will be completed within three months and improvements will also be made in recording people’s communication needs in GP records so as to improve communications beyond the pandemic. As improvements are now being made, the judicial review proceedings have been withdrawn.
Find out more [link removed]
“The Equality and Human Rights Commission got behind my case in Court this week. I was hopeful that their intervention would help the Judge understand why the government was acting unlawfully by providing me with shielding letters that I cannot read. Thankfully the Government has agreed that our case merited changes ahead of the hearing and has made a number of promises which should lead to significant improvements in the accessibility of its communications.”
New resources to challenge discriminatory school exclusions
To support pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) who have been permanently excluded from school, we have partnered with the Council for Disabled Children IASS (Information, Advice and Support Services) network. The network has now published resources for SENDIAS (SEND Information, Advice and Support) practitioners to appeal discriminatory exclusions.
SEND pupils are permanently excluded from school at a higher rate than pupils without special educational needs and disabilities. As it is often a complex process to fight a school’s decision to exclude a pupil, we have worked closely with SENDIAS practitioners to produce training and resources to guide them through this.
These practical resources are intended for SENDIAS practitioners to use when appealing a permanent exclusion, using legal arguments to challenge discriminatory decisions, and to feel confident in doing so. Underpinned by the Equality Act and clear to understand, they have already been effectively used by SENDIAS practitioners in exclusion appeals.
Access the resources [link removed]
Local leaders and levelling up: making England fairer
Ahead of the forthcoming local elections, our Chair Baroness Kishwer Falkner shared her thoughts with the Local Government Chronicle about the importance of local leadership to deliver a fairer country post-pandemic and what metro mayors can do to make England fairer.