The Equality Act 2010 requires any pub undergoing refurbishment to cater for disabled access. With most pubs needing at least a partial refurbishment every 5–10 years or so to stay competitive, this means all pub owners require a thorough understanding of the legislation to avoid any potential legal issues in the near future.

But given that around 20% of the 52,000 pubs in the whole of the UK (end of 2015) are listed—and acknowledging the conservation restrictions already in place for work on listed buildings—what is the impact for owners of listed pubs?

Making the news

The last thing any pub chain needs is negative publicity, but in the last few years there have been increasing numbers of pubs facing legal action over lack of appropriate access for disabled customers and at least in one case for removing access to disabled facilities.

Last year, a House of Lords committee released ‘The Equality Act 2010: the impact on disabled people’ report which recommended shutting down pubs (and other venues) for breaching the act and failing to provide adequate disabled facilities. As the findings in the report state:

“Many restaurants, pubs and clubs are difficult to access, with many not providing basic facilities such as a disabled toilet. Local authorities should be allowed to refuse to grant or renew these premises’ licences until they make the necessary changes.”

Which means understanding of the act is going to be especially important for listed pubs—traditionally smaller, with greater restrictions on alterations—over the next few years.

The Equality Act and scope of access needs

The Equality Act 2010 set out to bring a number of separate acts (including disability discrimination) under one act, with the aim being to “legally protect people from discrimination in the workplace and wider society.”

With pubs, it applies in terms of ensuring the building caters for disabled customers. Obvious examples for this might include a ramp for wheelchair access and a disabled toilet.

However, owners need to be aware that there could be a lot more to making a property accessible than that. For example, in a 2012 guide, the British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA) released a guide said that many pub operators may not have realised they already had disabled customers with access needs—such as the visually impaired. Which means accessibility fixes could also include things like colour differences between walls, frames and doors; tactile flooring changes; door widths; and lighting.

How does the act affect existing pub owners

This act can’t force owners of existing buildings to undertake alterations to comply with the legislation. And while best practice would see every listed pub review and update their sites to comply with the act, logistical and financial issues make this impractical to adhere to.

So it only realistically applies to those pub companies or site owners who undertake a refurbishment of the site—requiring them to make ‘reasonable’ attempts to make the site accessible to disabled users.

Unfortunately, the understanding of what is considered reasonable is a grey area. Which has led to owners always being at risk of being taken to court for not fully complying with the act, even though they have provided what they thought to be reasonable.

Adherence to the act for listed pubs

Listed pubs often embody the history and character that can help them become a commercial success. Yet upgrades are already tricky because of the strict legal restrictions placed on alterations. Adding in the Equality Act requirements thus presents an even greater challenge for owners.

  • On the conservation side, you need designers (and their designs) who understand and respect the original fabric and architectural style of the building for there to be any chance of approval for substantial alterations. And any smaller repairs, such as with windows or additions of extraction systems, also require a suitable knowledge of permissions to avoid costly enforcement action to put right later on.
  • Then you have the Equality Act, where the lack of space and restrictions of the existing layout for some facilities in listed pubs is one of the biggest challenges. For example, forming a 1500mm x 2200mm disabled toilet at the expense of eating into the trade area may not be considered reasonable from the owner’s point of view, but this may not be sufficient justification in the eyes of any future court for not including it. Having experience in such circumstances is essential to avoiding issues down the line.

All of which means that those owners of listed pubs need to do their research before undertaking any alterations to their property, as they have two sets of criteria to meet—and two sets of penalties to face if done wrong.

What does the future hold?

Nearly 8 years ago it was reported that disabled consumers could be worth up to £80 billion a year of the consumer market and potentially make up to 20% of a business’ customers. These days it’s suggested that figure could be more like £212 billion. And yet these consumers continue to remain undervalued.

The biggest problem is with pub companies looking for a return on their investment (ROI) within a fixed number of years (usually around 3-5), which means they don’t see spending money on disabled WCs, ramps, widening doors, etc, as selling enough beer or food in that time to provide the ROI.

What is needed now is an industry-wide change of views in order to view these alterations on a long-term ROI basis and see the bigger picture.

Although initially the ROI could be perceived as minimal, in the longer term any suitably altered listed pubs that comply with the act will not only be able to accommodate the disabled, but their extended network of family and friends too. And with other pubs remaining inaccessible, this means compliant listed pubs will reap the benefits of loyal customers and repeat business for years to come.

Looking to undertake work to your listed pub? Talk to us for the expert help and advice you need to maximise the value of your project, while minimising future legal risk.