The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) is reviewing whether Canal & River Trust (CRT) is fully meeting its Equality Act obligations. CRT released the following statement on 14th November 2016:
“1. We are updating our published policies to reflect our obligations and current practices under the Equality Act – this will include how we assess and implement reasonable adjustments for disabled people and how we assess impacts and avoid unlawful discrimination against all protected characteristics – including in respect of pregnant boaters
2. We will be happy to make this document accessible on our website and refer to it in other related documents – so that boaters who are not already aware of our current practices are aware of the updated published policy
3. Enforcement officers already receive training in equality and will continue to do so
4. We will continue to consider equality adjustments where appropriate in line with our obligations under the Equality Act
5. We are currently seeking to assist boaters with school aged children establish compliant patterns of movement – any request to relax our requirements for this group we will balanced against a number of other legitimate aims, including our duties to manage the waterways, the need to mitigate congestion around certain parts of the network and fairness to other boaters.”
The review by EHRC took place after the NBTA asked the EHRC to intervene in a case where CRT started enforcement action against a pregnant Bargee Traveller, in violation of her Equality Act rights. The EHRC also raised the issue of CRT’s enforcement policy making it increasingly difficult for the children of boater families to attend school. The EHRC was also concerned that ‘reasonable adjustments’ should be made for an indefinite period if the protected characteristic requires this.
The NBTA has been campaigning since January 2014 for CRT to meet its Equality Act obligations not to discriminate against people on the grounds of disability, age, pregnancy and other protected characteristics. This campaign was triggered because the NBTA was getting an increasing number of reports of disabled, elderly and ill Bargee Travellers being evicted or threatened with eviction because their age or disability meant that they could not comply with the movement requirements that CRT claimed they should comply with. This campaign led to CRT accepting that it had a duty to provide ‘reasonable adjustments’ to its enforcement procedure for disabled boaters. However CRT did not publicise this widely. The NBTA found that many boaters who were in enforcement were entitled to such ‘reasonable adjustments’ but were not aware of their rights. In March 2016 the NBTA held a meeting with CRT in which CRT agreed to include information about Equality Act rights in enforcement letters and to do so within one month, but CRT has reneged on this undertaking.
Earlier this year, Michelle Donelan MP held a meeting with CRT after a number of liveaboard boater families on the Kennet and Avon Canal contacted her for help because CRT’s current enforcement policy against them has made it increasingly difficult for their children to attend school. Ms Donelan met with CRT Chief Executive Richard Parry in June 2016 and sent a proposal to him for reduced movement in term time balanced by greater movement in school holidays. CRT has not yet responded to this proposal. At the same time another NBTA member with school age children has had one-to-one discussions with CRT about this matter but she has reported that the response from CRT has not been encouraging. The EHRC met with CRT on 4th October 2016 and will continue to review CRT’s progress regarding compliance with the Equality Act.
See also this article on the rights of disabled Bargee Travellers.